November 1st 2012. The day after Hallowe’en. I’m on my way to the Sala Razzmatazz—a gig venue located near the Poblenou district of Barcelona. The streets round here are big and wide and completely deserted. With the clocks going back last weekend, it’s already dark, and in spite of the ample street-lighting, there’s an eeriness in the air that lead me to quicken my pace. I cross one… two… three roads, and then make a right and head towards Pepe’s—the pre-gig bar of choice, situated opposite the Sala’s side entrance. As I enter the bar, I can’t help notice that it’s empty. Hm. Bit weird. Then again, this is Spain, and it is only 7PM. Most people have only just finished lunch. The second thing I notice is the chemical-sweet smell of an electrical air-freshener—an odour that’s totally at odds with the classic, rock-bar décor of signed posters and wall-mounted guitars. The barman is the only other person here, dressed in a black t-shirt and black jeans, his long hair tied back in a ponytail. “Di me,” he says. I order a beer, sit down at one of the tables, and wait.
Twenty minutes later and people are finally starting to arrive, gathering on the street outside to smoke and chat. I decide to join them. They are all—with one or two exceptions—old-school rockers of the denim-and-leather variety. Ponytails and receding hairlines. Big grey beards. But the vibe has changed, and the eeriness I felt earlier has been replaced with a sense of jovial camaraderie, and I want to be part of it. I contemplate trying to break into one of the conversations, but just then—who’s this, striding towards me from across the street? Long, curly locks cascading down from under a beret, perched at a jaunty angle above a handsome if slightly weathered-looking face…? It is!
Kory fuckin’ Clarke: artist, flag-burner and frontman par excellence of Warrior Soul. The greatest rock n’ roll band you’ve never heard of. The very band I’m here to see.
Feel free to skip this bit, but for those who are interested, here’s a brief, potted history of Warrior Soul. Signed to Geffen in the late 80s, the band released a series of critically-acclaimed-but-commercially-disappointing records before being dropped in 1994. Not that it stopped Kory Clarke, for whom the term “rock n’ roll lifer” was surely invented. I only discovered them in 2000, with the release of their aptly-titled ‘Classics’ LP. I identified with their blend of intelligence and bad-assery, and their raw, politically-charged tunes packed a punch without being preachy. They’re also the inspiration for one of my favourite quotes ever: “It doesn’t matter how good your band is, they’ll never be as good as Warrior Soul.” (Kerrang! magazine)
Fast forward twelve years and here I am watching Kory stroll right past me, straight up to the group of Catalans standing outside Pepe’s. He greets them with a cordiality that suggests that this is more of a family get-together than a meet-and-greet with the fans. One guy introduces Kory to his father, and then his aunt; Kory expresses his honour at meeting them both. As I continue to eavesdrop on the conversation, I’m reminded of the fact Kory Clarke has a voice like no other. It’s a voice delivered with a rasping, throaty, and unmistakeably American cadence: imagine you’d smoked Marlboro Reds, every day of your life. For a hundred years. Put simply, it’s the voice of someone who has lived life—and lived it hard—and it captures the attention of all who hear it. From what I catch, Kory comes across as witty, charming and totally at ease with these folk—two of whom, it later transpires, are part of his band for this leg of the tour—and after sharing a couple of amusing tour-bus anecdotes, he turns to head back into the Razzmatazz. Just as he’s about to cross the road, I seize my chance to say a quick hello.
“Excuse me, Kory…”
“Sorry to bother you, just wanted to say hello.”
“Hello. (Shakes my hand.) Oh, so you’re English?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault…”
(Nervous laugh.) “Yeah, well I live here now—”
“— but I’ve actually seen you a few times before, in the UK.”
“Wow, well thanks for coming out. Are you on the guest-list?”
“Whut? Oh, no I was just gonna get a ticket on the door.”
“Lemme see if I can sort that out.”
“Really? ‘Cos I don’t mind paying…”
“Well, I’ll ask the guy anyway. What’s your name?”
And that was that. Less than an hour later, I’m inside the tiny Sala “Tres”, front row centre with another beer in my hand. Despite professing to having had very little sleep the night before, Kory is on sparkling form, kicking and swinging and delivering each track with what can only be described as… well, a warrior’s soul. Me, I’m in seventh heaven, roaring along to the likes of ‘Love Destruction’, ‘Punk & Belligerent’, ‘Love Is The Drug’, and ‘A Drink For All My Friends’ (the latter taken from latest LP Stiff Middle Finger). Nah, you don’t know these songs because—like I said—you’ve never heard of Warrior Soul. That’s not your fault (blame Geffen, or Axl Rose, or the fact that they weren’t from Seattle) but it does make you less of a person. Sorry, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Are these songs old and unfashionable? Yes. Are they out of date and irrelevant? Absolutely not. On the contrary: these are still some of the most resonant, rousing and downright rockin’ tunes ever recorded, with lyrics that are, by turns, acerbic, bold and celebratory, and they sound every bit as vital tonight as they do every time I watch this incredible band.
By the time Kory introduces closing number ‘Fuck the Pigs’—a song about his own personal experience with Florida’s finest at Orlando airport—I am nothing short of euphoric. And very, very drunk. I will later struggle with the memory of how I got home… but I’m guessing that’s exactly the way Kory would have wanted it.