The story of Hanoi Rocks, Finland's only famous(ish) band is a short, sad tale.
At their peak they were, I believe, one of the finest glam bands - nay, even one of the finest bands - ever. With their decadent dress sense and razor-sharp cheekbones, quirky, catchy music and uncompromising attitude, they could have been huge. If life really does love a tragedy, then it should bloody adore Hanoi Rocks.
Formed in 1980, blonde bombshell Mike Monroe (vocals), Andy McCoy (lead guitar), Nasty Suicide (guitar), Sam Yaffa (bass) and Gyp Casino (drums) released their first album, Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, in 1981, closely followed by Oriental Beat in 1982. Their raw mix of punk and metal proved irresistable to Scandinavian audiences starved of decent home-grown talent, and they soon found themselves catapulted to the top of the charts with their off-beat ode to tainted love, 'Love's An Injection'.
After exhausting the possibilities of the Scandinavian rock circuit, the band relocated to London, where original drummer Gyp Casino was replaced by the charismatic and likeable Razzle (real name Nicholas Dingley. Not v. rock'n'roll really). After tramping the club circuit relentlessly for the next couple of years and releasing a further two albums, the ominously titled Self-Destruction Blues (1983) and Back To Mystery City (1984), they finally struck gold with Two Steps From The Move (also 1984). Under the guidance of rock guru Bob Ezrin (who also produced some of Alice Cooper's best works), Two Steps From the Move is a wonderful collection of pumping rock exuberance and genuinely moving ballads ('Million Miles Away' and 'Don't You Ever Leave Me', which possesses the dubious honour of reaching No. 1 in Italy, not a country renowned for its musical taste but, hey, who cares?)
A couple of the tracks on the album may seem a little dated now - take 'Cutting Corners', for example, which begins with the immortal words, 'My little lover's gonna be another/Copy of Raquel Welch,' and goes on to claim that 'When I want money she can go to work/As a roadie for Adam Ant.' But all the same, in the words of that bloke from the fishing ad, this is something you'll want to return to again and again.
Sadly, Hanoi Rocks did not survive to build on the potential success of TSFTM, because on 8 December 1984, Razzle was killed in a drunken car accident. The driver was Vince Neil, of Mötley Crüe fame. Vince was convicted of manslaughter, imprisoned for 30 days and forced to pay Razzle's family $2.6 million in compensation. But although he may have paid his debt to society, this didn't stop Hanoi Rocks from fading away into rock history.
So, where are they now? Well, five years later, Mike Monroe resurfaced with a kick-ass but sadly under-rated solo album, Not Fakin' It (1989). He looked and sounded great, but was clearly still deeply scarred by the events of December '84, breaking down into tears in interviews when questioned about the past. Since then he's continued playing and touring, mainly in the States and in Japan, where the band have always enjoyed enormous popularity.
He currently has a new album out, Life Gets You Dirty, which is bloody brilliant. The raw edge of Hanoi Rocks, driving guitars, bouncing rhythms, heartfelt lyrics and a remake of 'Self Destruction Blues' - what more could you want?
Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide formed the short-lived Cherry Bombz, and in 1990 Nasty Suicide, as part of Cheap And Nasty, released the moody Beautiful Disaster LP, touring the UK with some raggedy bunch of nobodies called the Wildhearts in tow. Hmmm. He has now given up music and is working as a pharmacist in Finland. Stranger things have happened. Just about.
Andy McCoy has worked on several different solo projects and collaborations, and can even lay claim to being the man who killed the the Kill City Dragons (remember them? Well done!) when he poached Dave Tregunna and Billy G Bang for his Shooting Gallery project, which sadly didn't exactly set the world on fire. But aside from that, the man who wrote some of the best glam songs ever has sunk without a trace in this country.
In Finland, however, Andy's star is still very much in the ascendant (despite a rather unfortunate descent out of a high window, which resulted in, among other injuries, all his teeth smashing out... relax though, cuz he's okay now). Finnish director Pekka Lehto (yes, THE Pekka Lehto. Ahem.) has just completed a film about Andy's life called, appropriately enough, The Real McCoy. It's not on release in the UK yet, but keep an eye on your local indecipherable foreign movie picture house because you never know...
In 1991, Mike Monroe (along with the rest of the world) appeared on Guns N'Roses' guest fest Use Your Illusion albums. GN'R had already shown an interest in Hanoi Rocks, re-releasing their back catalogue on their Uzi Suicide label in 1990, perhaps acknowledging a debt to the Finn Glamsters (or perhaps just because they'd do anything to annoy Mötley Crüe).
1993 witnessed the formation of short-lived punk covers band Demolition 23, which saw Mike and Sami reunited to play with ex-Star Star guitarist Jay Hening. When Hening was refused entry to the UK, he was replaced by none other than Nasty Suicide - and when the band played Finland, they were joined on stage by one Andy McCoy, the nearest thing to a 'Rocks reunion the world thought it would ever see.
I was only eleven when Razzle was killed, but to me, Hanoi Rocks will always be one of the greatest gods in the Pantheon of Glam. Long may they reign.
It's ten years since I wrote this tribute to the fab Finnish glamsters - so how has the last decade unfolded for them?
Well, if you'd asked me then about a Hanoi Rocks revival I've have said: Leeeave it out mate! But it seems I was a little hasty in consigning the band to the great record bargain bin in the sky because lo, in the year of Our Lord 2002 it came to pass that Hanoi Rocks were reborn.
Mike Monroe and Andy McCoy hadn't spoken for years, so when they met up again at the launch of a four-CD Hanoi boxset in February 2001 they were surprised to find they actually got along. After playing two festivals in Finland under the name Hanoi Revisited, they started writing new material together, and in early 2002 they confirmed the rumours that, yes, Hanoi Rocks would be reforming with the line up of Mike, Andy and three new faces, Costello, Timpa and Lacu - the rhythm section of Mike's solo band, in fact.
The band's new album, Twelve Shots on the Rocks was released in September 2003 and is fan-bloody-tastic. Sounding in places very like Mike's solo work, complete with storming riffs, sleazy sax and of course his unmistakeable voice, the magic touch of Andy McCoy cranks it up another notch. Less raw and sprawling than early Hanoi albums, the music has managed to become tighter and richer without losing any of its immediacy, its frenetic pulse and racy edge.
Despite the fact that in their publicity photos, neither look a day older than they did in 1985, life has left its mark on McCoy and Monroe. The glorious 'Designs On You' could have been (and probably was) written for Mike's late beloved wife Jude Wilder ('No matter how I cry/I can't say the last goodbye'), whilst the anthemic 'A Day Late, A Dollar Short' laments lost opportunities ('Too many dreams of youth/That we never caught') and 'Are You Lonely Tonight' is imbued with that aching sense of beauty and loneliness so familiar from songs like 'Until I Get You', 'Don't You Ever Leave Me' and the haunting 'Fallen Star.' Other standout tracks include the wonderfully uplifting 'In My Darkest Hour', and ballsy 'Watch This'.
Meanwhile, in other news, Hanoi bassist Sami Yaffa had resurfaced with the New York Dolls, when they made their much lauded comeback. From one glam legend to another - how cool is that?
By 2005 there was still no UK tour in the offing, but the band had a new line up, with Electric Boys AC Christell and Conny Bloom now on board, and a new album in the stores. Another Hostile Takeover was a swaggering, triumphant survival guide for folk who know what it's like to get the fuzzy end of the lollipop (oh, and me). Arrogant and ballsy ('Talk to the Hand'), unfeasibly positive and full of fighting spirit ('Eternal Optimist', 'Hurt') it proved yet again that the 'Rocks are the spiky rose thorn in the side of authority ('The Devil In You') and they're here to kick your sorry ass. They came, they saw they conquered and they lost it all - and yet how marvellous that after everything he's been through, Mike Monroe can still believe that 'True love blasts through thick and thin/Conquers everything'.
The highlight of the album had to be the glorious 'No Compromise, No Regrets': co-written by Mike and his lovely late wife Jude Wilder and inspired by the legendary Stiv Bators, it ranks up there with the Levellers' 'One Way' as one of the best songs ever to live your life by.
2006 saw a brief visit to these shores, courtesy of a Twisted Sister support slot (go figure...). In 2007 a third album, Street Poetry, was released amid a plethora of rumours about UK tours, all of which turned out to be bogus.
If I were being unfair, I'd say that the new album was more of the same but not quite as good. But since when have I ever been unfair to the mighty Hanoi Rocks? True, there were no instant stand out classics in the vein of 'A Day Late A Dollar Short', 'In My Darkest Hour' or 'No Compromise, No Regrets', but then Street Poetry was more of a slow burner than the last two albums.
From the sitar spice of opener 'Hypermobile', to the sleazy saxophone groove of 'Worth Your Weight In Gold' and the twangy jews' harps, Mexican trumpets and thundering Wild West rhythms of closing track 'Fumblefoot and Busy Bee', which plays out like the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly rescored for babyglams, this is an album that will grow on you like glittery fungus.
Sure, there's a lot on here that sounds familiar - the first single from the album, 'Fashion', could be an outtake from Self Destruction Blues while 'Power of Persuasian' is pure 'Lick Summer Love' and 'Transcendental Groove' has shades of one of my all time favourite Hanoi tracks, 'Taxi Driver' - but then I'm hardly going to complain about the band ripping off themselves.
Best of all, the don't care, in yer face Hanoi attitude is evident in spades. 'Teenage Revolution', 'This One's For Rock'n'Roll' and 'Powertrip' are feelgood anthemic treats that beg to be played live, but it's the title track that best displays the defiant, slightly self-deprecating belligerence that has characterised the band from the start: 'I'm just reciting my street poetry/ Might mean nothing much to you but it's the whole world to me'.
2008 was my best Hanoi year ever. Not only did I get to see them twice on their UK spring tour, but I also caught them at Sweden Rock and supporting the lovely Wednesday 13 at a cracking Hallowe'en show in London. And just a week later, they were back in Scotland again.
But if something seems too good to be true, it's usually because it is. And in October 2008 the band announced the inevitable: they were splitting up. Mike and Andy have never entirely seen eye to eye, so it was a bit much to expect them to live happily ever after, reliving the good ol' days forever and a day. The band went out in a blaze of glory, with a series of sold out gigs in their native Finland, and then it was all over. Again.
But fear not, folks, for this tale has a happy ending after all. January 2010 saw the launch of Michael Monroe's new band, featuring none other than Sami Yaffa, Ginger Wildheart, Todd Youth (who's played with the likes of Danzig, Motorhead and, most recently, the Chelsea Smiles) and drummer Jimmy Clark, who drummed with Mike and Sami in Demolition 23 back in the early '90s. Watch this space for reviews the minute the band hit these shores.
Andy McCoy, meanwhile, is plugging away solo, combining playing and writing with painting and drawing, and has an exhibition opening soon. 'Hail hail rock'n'roll' he writes on his website. Hear hear...
As for another 'Rocks reunion? Well, never say never (how wrong was I ten years ago?) but I won't hold my breath. Hanoi Rocks were a gorgeous, glamorous flash in the pan, designed to burn brightly and blaze a trail across the rock firmament, but never to burn for long. This one's for rock'n'roll, but it ain't for keeps.