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A GUIDE TO AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE WITH CHOPPER READ PART 2
A GUIDE TO AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE WITH CHOPPER READ PART 2
Intro: This is the incredibly delayed second part of the story I started almost a year ago after the Australian tour.* Apologies; I wanted to talk to Nick Reynolds first, who graciously allowed me to interview him to get a bit of background…
Cast your mind back to the last time you called up a convicted killer and said 'excuse me, would you mind if cover your entire head in plaster, deprive you of speech, sight and hearing then leave you utterly defenceless and vulnerable for an hour or two?' How did that work out for you? Are you getting the hang of the physiotherapy? Blink once for yes.
There's only one person on the planet who could get away with this request with his basic motor functions intact, and that's sometime Alabama 3 moutharpist Nick, who is son of Bruce Reynolds, brains behind The Great Train Robbery. When Nick isn't sucking on a reed for the acoustic band, he likes to cast the faces of convicted men in bronze. There aren’t many clubs in the Greater London Area that cater for such artistic urges; sometimes he's had to go as far as the subcontinent in search of subjects. So when A3 acoustic toured Australia the year before last Nick grabbed the opportunity to persuade Chopper Read, Australia’s most notorious gangland assassin, to let him stick two straws in his nostrils and immortalize him for posterity.
Mark Brandon Read was son to a devout Seventh Day Adventist mother and a Military father. In care up the age of five, he was reputedly beaten, imprisoned and electrocuted by family and state throughout his early life. Out of this grim forge 'Chopper' emerged, a walking, laughing machete, impervious to pain, others or his own.
Opinions are divided as to how he got this name. Does it come from the time he had his ears sliced off in prison? Or was it his practice of amputating the toes of heroin dealers with bolt cutters? Or was he named after a 1950's Cartoon Character? Why don't you go and you ask him? I'll look after your drink.
In the early days, Chopper's modus operandi was elegant in its simplicity. He'd drop in at a local brothel, and ask the resident smack dealer for all of his money. If the response was disappointing, he'd remove toes until a satisfactory payment appeared. This way he managed to avoid a lot of the time-consuming paperwork one generally has to take on board as a self-employed person running a small business.
After this he moved into the abduction game, practicing his unique skill set on key underworld players. Between the ages of 20 and 38 he spent thirteen months outside prison. 'Chopper: From the Inside' based on letters sent from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison appeared in 1991, and sold 250,000 copies. 'Chopper' the movie raised his profile still further. Now Nick Reynolds waits with Rock Freebase in a Melbourne street to bestow a final beatification. The Earless Assassin appears, with trademark Zapata and Aviator shades. How does he keep them on?
Nick's going to have to work a bit to get El Choppo onside; he's not known for his charity work. In the hotel bar, Nick attempts to spread some butter by telling him how honoured he is to get face-casts of Australia's two most legendary criminals.
'Two...? Well I'm one, who's the other one?'
'Don't compare me to that cross-dressing POOF with a bucket on his head! He never had a girlfriend! Him and his gang were all fucking POOFTAS! Hanging out in the bush BUMMING each other!
'Chopper lights a cigarette. The barmaid politely informs him that smoking isn't allowed in the bar.
'Thanks very much. If I see anybody fucking smoking I'll let them know, now FUCK OFF.'
The barmaid scuttles off and informs the manager, who takes one look at Chopper and suspends company policy.
'...Er, how about a drink, Chop?'
'I've got cirrhosis of the liver. My doctor said one more drink it could kill me. I've got six months to live.'
Ooh…this isn't going well.
Rock, who I’ve heard is usually very comfortable in the company of large, violent men, would rather be anywhere else right now. Chopper eyes him.
'What did you say, mate?'
Rock starts...'Er...I beg your pardon?'
'I thought you said something'
'Um... no, no, I didn't say anything'
'Yes you did, you said something about MONEY didn't you?'
'How much you gonna fuckin pay me?'
Nick gently explains to Chopper that no cash will be involved; he's going to cast his head in bronze so that he'll be remembered for eternity. He'll get a copy. If you called Nick and commissioned one, it would cost you thousands of pounds.
'But I didn't fucking call you. YOU fucking called ME.'
Quietly, Nick describes the illustrious pantheon Chopper's head will be joining. His napper will be displayed alongside those of The Kray's hatchet man Freddie Foreman, Howard 'Mr Nice' Marks, one-man crime-wave Taters Chatham Chatham, and the Richardon’s human Rottweiler ‘Mad’ Frankie Frazer...
This seems to mollify him. If mollification is a procedure that can be applied to a man like Reed.
So it is that next day, a hungover Nick Reynolds is scooping grey goo over the head of a self-confessed toe-cutter, with the assistance of Ian, our mild-mannered manager. Bound tight in black bin liner, Chopper is unhappy. Ian is terrified.
Two hours later, the last of the plaster is scraped off Chop's boat race. He launches into Ian. He's missed his parking ticket. His cars been towed. Money. Now.
He goes up to Neil, our tour manager. How many dollars you got on you? Er only about a hundred.
Right you're coming with me. Where to? The fucking cashpoint machine.
We're all players on the great Fruit Machine of life. But Chopper gets unlimited nudges every time.
In seconds, his personality undergoes an amazing transformation. All smiles, he tells Nick how much he respects his dad and pleads with Nick not to forget to give him a copy of the mask. He buys us a round of drinks with our own money, and we thank him. We're grateful, so fucking grateful. All of a sudden, it feels so good to be alive.
FINAL PART NEXT WEEK...
© Orlando Harrison 2010