"You're going to Hell for this!": That time I sent deathpunks Turbonegro to play Santa at an old folk's home, and the terrified residents thought World War III had started

(Image credit: Nigel Crane/Redferns)

It honestly seemed like a nice idea at the time. Not an excuse that would stand up in a court of law, admittedly, but hear me out. 

Sometimes, you forget that the rock n' roll world isn't the real world. And that, accordingly, there are elements of the rock 'n' roll world that don't necessarily translate particularly well into 'normie' world.

To be fair, this was a lesson I learned as far back as 1996, when an elderly next door neighbour knocked on my front door and, blushing wildly, handed me an un-stamped envelope on which the words 'BUTTHOLE SURFERS' had been written in thick black ink. "Ah, great, thank you, I've been expecting this!" I said cheerfully, thanking her kindly for accepting the package from the courier who'd delivered it an hour earlier.

It was some time later that it dawned on me that I had failed to pass along an explanation that the nice PR lady from Capitol Records had promised that morning that she'd send a bike to my home address to deliver Electriclarryland, the brand new and much-anticipated seventh album from Gibby Haynes' band, so I could hear it in time to file a review for the following week's issue of Kerrang! magazine. Without that knowledge, it's entirely possible that my embarrassed neighbour may have imagined that the envelope contained a very different type of artistic endeavour. 

But because the rock 'n' roll world can sometimes be a parallel universe, there's scope for creativity and off-the-wall ideas. So, for instance, when The Dillinger Escape Plan first graced the cover of Kerrang! in November 2007, every member of the New Jersey band was naked, their modesty protected by household objects in a tribute to an entertainingly cheesy 'non-nude' scene featuring international man of mystery Austin Powers (Mike Myers), and British secret service agent Vanessa Kensington (Liz Hurley) in the first Austin Powers film. When System Of A Down graced the magazine's cover for the first time in 1999, Daron Malakian's face was sprayed with silver paint, while Shavo Odadjian was sprayed gold. Why? Fuck knows, but again... it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And you don't even want to know the concept behind the proposed cover shoot which Rammstein vetoed on the grounds that it was "a bit much".

All of which brings us, somewhat circuitously, to a band whose songs include I Got Erection, Stroke The Shaft, Blow Me (Like the Wind), and er, Rendezvous with Anus. Now, once again, first impressions can be misleading here, because while Norwegian deathpunks Turbonegro might not look or sound like a band you'd want to introduce to your mother, they are, in fact, very nice people, charming and funny and polite. And so when, in the run-up to one Christmas in the early noughties, I proposed that, for an article in Kerrang!'s always-popular Xmas issue, they might like to play Santa for an afternoon by dropping into an old people's home with food hampers, a bottle or two of wine and some festive treats, while a photographer from the magazine documented their warm-hearted philanthropy, the sextet happily signed up for the visit.

What could possibly go wrong?

The first indication that things had not gone entirely as planned on the day in question came when I received a phone call from the photographer accompanying the band, Kerrang! legend Paul Harries, which began with the words, "You're going to Hell for this!"

Apparently, the sight of six burly men in matching uniforms and military helmets / peaked caps strolling en masse into a hospice speaking in a harsh European language proved to be somewhat alarming, indeed triggering, for the very old, and in some cases, very ill residents of the facility. For their part, Turbonegro weren't aware that the frail and frightened octogenarians, some of whom were hooked up to ventilators, hadn't been forewarned that their lunch hour would be interrupted by an over-friendly troupe of six Scandinavian Santas sporting lipstick, eyeliner and mascara.


Paul Harries dropped into the Kerrang! office on his way home to show us his documentation of the afternoon. The frightened expressions on the faces of the traumatised residents were difficult to look at, and Turbonegro looked appropriately mortified, and as shame-faced as a bunch of men who appear to have face-planted into a Max Factor display case can look. 

Happy fuckin' Christmas everyone.

The feature, needless to say, never made it into print. Sorry everyone, my bad.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.