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Simon Mason - Britpop survivor on highs and lows
Simon Mason - Britpop survivor on highs and lows
Thu, 07/04/2016 - 11:12
Published:07 April, 2016
by ROISIN GADELRAB
I WAS in my flat in Brecknock Road, and my phone rings. It was a mate asking me to do him a favour. There was this band from Manchester wanting some ‘aperitifs’. I was watching Coronation Street or something. I couldn’t be arsed. Twenty minutes later I was standing there watching Oasis. And everything changed. It was a big moment in my life.”
It was 1994, Oasis’s first London gig, and this was the point when Simon Mason cemented his dubious status as a Britpop drug dealer. The former heroin addict is now nearly 10 years clean and works with musicians who are struggling with addiction, some of whom used to be his customers.
His unscripted one-man show, based on his bestselling memoir, Too High, Too Far, Too Soon, about his frenzied life and subsequent recovery, plays at The Water Rats on April 27-28, the scene of that fateful gig. But Simon does not glorify those fuzzy 90s days. His is a tale of redemption. He pitched up in Kilburn in 1986 after running away from his small-town life in West-Super-Mare, aged 17.
“London was a different place then,” he says. “It was a time when you could run away, sign on, get a job or claim benefits. The rights and wrongs of that are separate. You could do it, and a lot of creative people did. It was a place where a young person could dive into the multi-cultural scene. You could afford to live here. You might have a bit of a hustle from time to time but you can do it. There was a fuzzy sense of possibility – Camden played a part in that. It was the centre of the music world even in the 80s, and when we reached the 90s it was the absolute epicentre of everything.”
Simon was drawn to Camden Town tube station where he could get a copy of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds a day early.
“I used to think, I’m ahead of the country,” he says. “There would be a queue of us geeky band fans. We would go to a café and pore over them. If you were skint, you could get on the tube, sort of slide through. It was all part of the game, Routemaster buses, you had to do what you had to get around. I would get to Camden tube station for the NME, whether I had a ticket or not. As things changed in my life, it wasn’t about buying tickets, it was about being on a guest list.”
Simon would go straight to Melody Maker’s “Musicians Wanted” adverts.
“I wanted to be famous,” he says. “It sounds shallow but it was true. I had no recognisable talent, I couldn’t play an instrument well, I wasn’t a very good singer. Like a lot of people, I saw the whole rock ’n’ roll thing as a package, and part of that package was drugs.”
Simon had used various drugs since he was 14, after being sexually abused at school and following the early death of his father. A regular Glastonbury fence-jumper, he got a job with a BBC team who were filming the festival in 1990, securing an AAA pass and entry to the backstage world where his drug use and connections became of use. One day he was asked to find drugs for a member of The Happy Mondays.
“I just wanted to fit in somewhere and all of a sudden I was the guy people went to say ‘can you get this’, and I could and I did,” he says. “I brought that job back to London. I was probably one of the first people walking around Camden with a mobile phone. All of a sudden there was no need to be at the tube station because you’re on the guest list.”
This took him to Oasis’s first London gig at The Water Rats in 1994. He was soon on the guest list for many of the band’s early shows, at The 100 Club, The Forum, Astoria, even promoting the Definitely Maybe launch party in Holborn.
“There was a sense of being part of something,” he says. “It was Britpop happening and I was part of it in my slightly deluded, fantastical way. You’d go drinking and see Noel, Jarvis Cocker, bands hanging out in The Good Mixer, all people in the pubs in bands and everyone knew everyone. We would see a band every night. I was in a band, we were rubbish, but you felt possibility again, that if you had a half-decent haircut, you’d get a record deal. There was a sense of something happening again, and we were young and stupid and wearing Adidas trainers.”
This initially distracted Simon from his heavier drug use, having progressed to heroin.
“Using took a back seat,” he says. “We were at a period in British youth music culture where it was normal to say, ‘shall we go to a pub and have an ‘e’?’ It didn’t seem out of place to be off your knackers on a Tuesday in the pub at 7.30pm because it seemed like everyone was.”
But heroin soon took hold again.
“It has a cunning way of getting you. There’s a lot of denial with heroin. I would say, ‘I’ll stop next week’, and next week came in 2006. Having a heroin addiction is a different thing. There’s a hypocrisy – you can walk around off your head on pills and everyone’s like ‘alright mate?’ but the minute [heroin] is named people go ‘eugh’. A group of us were caught up in that and it was secretive, so when other people were going home to do more uppers, there was an increasing number of us going to each other’s flats smoking/injecting heroin and that’s when things got dark. Because no one really wanted to talk about it.
“People were getting in trouble, things were going missing, people were getting arrested and people started to die,” says Simon. “The Britpop period started to die. A lot of people had been going up for a long time and there’s this dirty brown stain in the bath, a high watermark. I think Noel said once after Knebworth, ‘if that was the Britpop high watermark, we should have gone home and looked after ourselves better’. But we didn’t.
“There were people all over the country, one minute all standing around in a field going to change the world telling each other we loved each other, the next, standing in a queue trying to get methadone wondering what happened to us. I could have been to 40 funerals of people under 50.”
As Oasis approached one of their biggest gigs – Knebworth in 1996 – Simon dropped out of the music scene.
“On my 27th birthday I went to Knebworth. I left before the first band went on because I ran out of heroin. There was a tidal wave of boys and girls trying to get in and I was walking in the opposite direction. I spent the next 10 years in and out of rehab, jail, homeless shelters, injecting in my neck. People were dying, I saw people get killed – the full horrors of addiction. You hear friends dying, you think, this wasn’t meant to happen.”
Simon’s play reveals how he is eventually pulled out of this spiral in 2006. For the past six years, he has been working in drug treatment rehab. He wrote a blog, which inspired his book and was inspired to turn it into a play by the late Phil Fox, a recovering addict and founder of The Outside Edge theatre company, set up to work with people in recovery. His show has attracted attention from rock such as Jimmy Page, and the mother of two young heroin addicts.
“She told me, ‘these are my sons, they are in a band, on heroin and they have just told me you’ve given us some hope’,” Simon says. “Subsequently, to my knowledge, they’ve come off heroin and that’s what the show is about. I tell a story and, yes, it has some sparkly moments, but the heart of the show is that there’s a happy ending and people can come away from it, it might be them, or someone they know but there is a way out.”
• Further information from the Too High Too Far Too Soon Facebook page. Twitter @simonmasonsays