Into Music: The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard – Chapter 14
EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD
The true story of the greatest band you’ve never heard
Chapter 14 – There Can Be Only One
It was a typical West End afternoon. While students in the nearby Boyd Orr building were hard at work on complex scientific calculi, similarly diligent shoppers scoured the shelves of the Safeway for the weekend supplies. No one had ever known we were among you…until now.
For those of us living in parallel, life was narrated by Sean Connery and went something like this…
‘From the dawn of two in the afternoon we came, moving silently down through the aisles. Living many secret lives. Struggling to reach the Time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last.’
OK, ‘Highlander’ wasn’t ‘Highway to Heaven’, so The Tall One, The Bold Yin and yours truly would have to save the sniffles for our regular Monday schmaltz fest. This was Friday and we were in the Salon. Near the Botanics of Byres Road on Vinnicombe Street, stood this small but perfectly formed cinema and one afternoon a week, unemployed locals got a seat for a mere fifty pence!
Every single musician, hit or miss, would be there, along with artists, filmmakers and other unemployable moochers, packing Sunblest bags and waving dole cards like ne’er-do-well Neville Chamberlains. Pieces in our time.
“Don’t the Highlands look great?” I whispered.
“They sure do,” replied Billy
Gordon piped up. “Didn’t they film this in Spain?”
“They’ve not got Highlands in Spain,” I said, confused.
“But if Sean Connery is a Spaniard …”
“And Christopher Lambert is a Scotsman?”
“Exactly!” said Gordon
“We should tour there.”
There can be only one…if you don’t count the sequels, TV shows and cartoons. But the rugged landscape of Scotland (or was it Spain?) was calling. And as certain doors in Glasgow were getting slammed in our unbearably pretty faces, we reckoned that it might be prudent to take the circus on the road.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Devon. “Touring is a pain in the hole and even if you had a disc to promote, it’s very costly…”
“The road is calling us, man,” said Billy, sagely. “What can you do?”
“Well, I do have contacts. They’re mainly based on the West Coast but…”
West Coast??? Seriously? Yaaaas, San Francisco, Los Angeles…calm down…breathe…
“I suppose we could hit the East if budgets allow,” replied Devon.
Across the continent to Chicago, maybe Philly and then New Fucking York? Yaaaas!
“We might go as far as Aberdeen but I can’t promise anything at this stage,” said our manager. The sturm und drang of our musical careers was starting to sound like a slow puncture.
“As we’re going on the road Devon,”asked Gordon, “do you reckon that we could splash out on a roadie?
“I’d rather have a keyboard player actually,” I offered.
Suddenly the heavens broke…
“We don’t need one,” replied Gordon, assertively.
“Almost all of our recordings have piano on them,” said Billy, slightly more confident than I’d been about poking the angry bear with a sharp stick.
“Recordings, yes. But stuck in a van with a keyboard player giving it all that fucking Rick Wakeman or worse, Howard Jones? Bollocks to that. I hate keyboard players more than I hate drummers and I fucking despise drummers,” spat Gordon before adding the caveat, “No offence, Jim.”
Jim, sprawled out on the couch, looked up from his comic and said “None taken,” before adding a sotto voce caveat of his own.
“Wank,” he muttered.
I pushed again.
“Right, let’s consider the evidence,” I said, holding up The Tall One’s Walkman like a hairy Perry Mason. “Every single artist you’ve been listening to recently…Van Halen, Robert Palmer, INXS…Go fucking West for Chrissakes…have all made use of keyboards.”
“It would make our set a bit more versatile,” reasoned Billy. “Not to mention fleshing out the sound.”
Devon stroked his chin and did the math.
The Tall One groaned. Like a monarch failing to hold back the tide, he felt a right Cnut.
“Fine, “ he said, “but no fucking synths, no stoners, no jazzers and absolutely no prog rockers. Those are my conditions.”
Sounded fair to me.
“So…”, pondered the Bold Yin. “Where do we find a non-noodling pianist who has his own gear, is willing to sleep in the van, keep his mouth shut and do as he’s told?
“Without being paid much,” I added.
“Damn right,” replied Devon and Gordon, in synch.
Jim looked up from his enthralling Captain Marvel.
“I know a guy,” he said, “plays piano and he doesn’t have a job at the moment. He’s even been to some of our shows so the material will be at least familiar.”
“You think he’d be up for it?”
“He’d do it in a heartbeat,” replied Jim. “His name is Deke.”
Hell, that was easy. Sometimes, life just pieces together these perfect little jigsaws. What could possibly go wrong? Well, let me tell you…
Later that week, we’re at the rehearsal room and with Jim, in walked our prospective pianist.
“Lads, this is Deke.”
He’s stylish, handsome and looks like a twenty year old Chet Baker with a dental plan. He has to go.
“Hey guys,” he said. “Thanks for the opportunity.”
Gordon and Billy welcomed him warmly. I was less impressed.
Hawl, Jimmy Dean! This is ma baw, ma gemme and all available slots have been filled. Gordon is the Alpha male, Jim is the housewives favourite, Billy is the Zen Master and I’m the unbearably good looking one. Sorry pal, as the bold Freddie stated, and correct me if I’m wrong but, ‘There can be only one’.
Not that any of that bothered the Tall One.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” he said. “A little jam in the key of C?”
“No bother,” said Deke and off he tinkled, like a straight Liberace in a form fitting, knitted shirt. He hadn’t played a note and I already detested the cunt.
Then he started.
Bollocks, I thought. He’s good.
OK, I can’t deny it. He is a talented player. But how am I supposed to know how well he’ll fit if they don’t leave me a gap to sing? Every time I open my mouth, there’s another intricate, interminable solo. Even Billy and Jim got in on the act.
When we finally got to the end of the noodling, Gordon reached over to Deke, offered his hand and said, “Welcome aboard.”
He has to go.
Over at Nico’s, Myra and Devon were talking turkey about the tour.
“I have a few guys up north who I can speak to,” she said.
“So far, I’ve got Dundee, Edinburgh and Wick taken care of,” replied Devon. “If you can arrange something in Aberdeen and Inverness, that would help. And there’s a new wine bar opened in Fort William that has been bugging us to play.”
“Wine bar?” asked Myra, confused. “For White?”
“We might as well,” replied Devon. “We have a piano player now. Anyway, the owner said that if we play the wine bar on the Tuesday, he’ll find a slot for us at a rock festival he’s set up on the Saturday.”
Back at Gordon’s flat, we were supposed to be working on some last minute tweaks to the arrangements but I had other things on my mind.
“So, why don’t you like him?” asked the Tall One.
I temporarily suspended my huff to answer.
“Because he’s a stuck up wank. And he looks like he’s just bounded in from the set of a Nicholas Ray film.”
Billy and Gordon looked at each other, blankly.
“And he’s a fucking jazzer,” I added, conveniently ignoring for a second my own secret love for the genre. “Gordon, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t you say that anyone who likes jazz should be beaten with a wah wah pedal, put in a sack and thrown in the Clyde?”
“I dig jazz,” offered the Bold Yin.
“Aye, but you’re weird,” I replied like the proper little hypocrite I was.
“We like him,” said Gordon
“Well, I fucking don’t!” I said, folding my arms dramatically like a spoiled four year old.
There was a pause.
“It’s his looks, isn’t it?”
To the quick, Billy. To the quick.
Now that I’ve been sussed out by the Mental Guru, there’s nothing to do but nut up and shut up. We’ve got a mini tour of Scotland to negotiate. Inverness, Aberdeen, Wick then Fort William. Rock and roll, eh? So, surely you’d think that Devon has organised a nice, easy little warm up before we head into the rock hinterlands? Think again.
Welcome to…The Jailhouse. Edinburgh’s meanest, toughest biker haunt.
Without word of a lie, as soon as we walked in, the entire bar stopped and looked at us.
Now, while Darryl Hall and John Oates offering ‘hauners’ to Sade may carry more obvious menace than me, as a collective, we’ve become more than used to dealing with the kind of crowds you rarely see at a Hue and Cry concert. So this was a dawdle.
Just remember, easy with the face, guys.
But before we’d even had the chance to ask for a drink, some long legged Rock chick standing at the bar spun around and ‘clotheslined’ a similarly statuesque, leather clad student of Jean Brodie. As they started rolling around on the barroom floor, the clientele stopped staring at us, so we had that to be thankful for.
“Four pints of snake bite and a Perrier water, squire.”
Told you. Dawdle.
Remarkably, no one thought to break the fight up so it continued. We’re already halfway through our soundcheck by the time the combatants return to their corners. To us, it was just another bar fight but Deke was slack jawed and transfixed.
“Enjoying yourself?” I asked.
“Is…is it always like this?” he stuttered.
I nodded, smugly.
“Oh my goodness,” he said. “This is GREAT!”
My face trips me again.
A couple of hours – and a truck load of snakebite – later and yet another potentially hostile audience was won over.
2nd term, University of Rock, Edinburgh campus. What an apprenticeship. On behalf of the band, I take the applause.
“Thank you Jailhouse! This is the last song for the night…it’s called…”
Just then, the crowd parted. The left side of the bar faced off against the right side, and with assorted barstools, chains and motorcycle helmets, they proceeded to practice rudimentary cosmetic surgery on each other..
“…Rip it Up!”
As the place erupted, we cranked our shit up to eleven. As Billy, Jim and Gordon fed off the electric, violent atmosphere, I turned to look at our brand new keyboard player. He was crouched behind his piano with only his knuckles and his quiff showing.
Rock road rules, 101. Should medium to large scale disturbance break out close to band, they’ll always go for the piano player first. This guy was smarter than he looked.
A police riot squad arrived, like a welcoming committee in reverse and the melee continued to occupy the bar staff and bouncers so naturally, we ‘vamoosed’ a couple of crates of beer. Call it ‘Capital Gains’. Right, to the hotel and don’t spare the horses.
“The name is White,” I said to the blue rinsed, pearls and twinset custodian of the George Street guesthouse we’d been booked into. She ran her finger down the long page of her ledger.
“Do you get many bands staying here?” asked Gordon.
“We had the Barron Knights here last year. Very clean,” she said, peering over her prim specs at the five sweaty herberts in front of her desk.
“There it is. One room, a twin…under the name…White.”
Well, this is awkward.
“Fucking Devon,” growled Billy.
“Look, there’s a club down the road, “ I said, “We’ll no doubt find a couple of young ladies to help us rest our weary wangs. Whoever doesn’t score, gets the beds.”
“Game on,” said Jim.
A couple of hours later and the unthinkable happened; the entire band had struck out. Back at the guesthouse, all five of us found ourselves sardined into one floral print, fart ridden, snore pit. Never mind, we’ll make up for it on the road.
Edinburgh to Inverness 199m, 3hrs 56mins … 6hrs to showtime at Clachan Park Rock Festival.
We might only be getting expenses for this gig but I was genuinely excited about playing a bona fide rock festival. Even though none of us had ever heard of it.
“Are we there yet?” asked an excited Jim for the umpteenth time.
“Devon said that they’re expecting four thousand people up there today,” said Gordon.
“We’ll be fine as long as the weather doesn’t turn,” said Billy, instantly jinxing things.
Four seasons in an afternoon? Welcome to Scotland. The origins of the name of the town we’re heading towards, Inverness, comes from the local innuit name, Hakka Rapa Lurgie which I believe means home of the stray dog with plastic bag sticking out of its arse.
“Are we there yet?” I asked.
“Almost,” said Billy. “Just enough time for a sound check then we’re due onstage.”
We arrive in Inverness and follow the signs for Clachan Park.
“Don’t see many rock types around here,” I said.
“Don’t see many skinheads this time so I suppose that’s an improvement,” said Gordon.
“Here we go…” said Jim, spotting the sign. “Clachan Park!”
We pulled the van through the gates of the small football stadium. There was no stage, just a small farmers market taking place.
So this is what passes for rock and roll in the highlands…
An elderly farmer, sat on a haybale, was drinking from his flask.
“Is this Clachan Park, pal?” asks Billy.
“It is that, son.”
“Where’s the rock festival, old timer?” asks Gordon, as baffled as the rest of us.
“Well, I heard that Lou Reed is currently warming up at the Bothy Bar,” replied the farmer. “And Iggy Pop is in that caravan over there with a couple of local lassies.”
“Are you taking the piss?” I ask.
“Aye son, I believe I am.”
We all jumped out and looked around the pitch. Duck herding, kids jumping around with Shetland ponies and guys with big red hairy noses slapping coos on the arse. Pretty sure I didn’t sign up for this.
“Get the contract out,” said Billy. “What does it say?”
I started reading. “It says that ‘I, Gregor MacLeod, known herewith as ‘The Promoter’, hereby agree that White…blah blah blah…forty five minute set…blah…expenses only…on stage at 6pm…Claggan Park, Fort William.”
“What…?” said Gordon, his face turning red.
“This is not Claggan Park, Fort William,” said Jim. “This is Clachan Park, Inverness!”
We’re on stage in less than an hour. Back in the van!
Inverness to Fort William 64m, journey time … 1hr 16m … showtime 45 mins.
With Billy and I as co-pilots, Gordon hit the road like James Hunt on a promise. Jim and new boy Deke paid for being the low men on the totem by being thrown around the back of the van like a scudbook.
64 miles in 41 minutes, in relentless rain. I’m so glad we took the insurance.
“There it is!” shouted Jim, “Claggan Park!”
The van skidded into the car park on two wheels.
Don’t see many rock types around here either. The crowd must be inside.
No time to waste so we hit the stage stat, battered by the elements. A handful of hardy souls braved the weather to cheer us on. From the hospitality tent, a much larger, and drier crowd watched from a distance.
Forty minutes of soggy rock later…
Deke, with a plastic bag on his head to protect his quiff, posed a not unreasonable question, “Isn’t this dangerous?”
Billy, stomping through the on-stage puddles replied, “Nah, this is freshwater, country rain. It’s the city stuff that’ll get you killed.”
As the Tall One hit a power chord so mighty that it dispersed the angry clouds like a boot to a spandex clad crotch, rays of God’s golden light broke through. As the old adage goes, if you don’t like the weather in Scotland, hang around a few minutes.
With the sun, out came the concert goers, just in time for the last song.
So pretty ladies, where are we staying tonight?
Fast forward to an Inversneck living room, early the next morning. A chubby rock fan drew the curtains. Band members dotted around. Loud snoring and power farting, Gordon the former, me the latter.
Zero for two lads. Must do better.
“Morning boys,” he said. “Time for breakfast.”
“Smells good mate,” said Jim stretching.
Billy yawned. “Thanks man.”
“See that?” I said, “That’s your proper highland hospitality at work.”
“No bother boys,” replied the rock fan. “I took a tenner out of your pocket while you were sleeping to pay for it.”
“You’re welcome,” said Gordon with a scowl.
Fort William to Aberdeen 159m, 3hrs 15m
Ahhh berrr deeen deeen deeen ….push pineapple shake the tree, Aberdeen deen deen, I really need some strong coffee. And come to think of it, a shower.
So, we’re on the road, ruminating on rock, not a care in the world. All of a sudden, the van screamed to a stop. Jesus. Has Gordon hit something? Not yet…
“Right, new tour rule,” he barked
“No one takes their boots off in the van unless they have washed their feet and have clean socks. No exceptions.”
We grumbled but acceded to his wishes as swollen, sore feet are better than swollen, sore stones.
“Better,” he said as we entered the city of Aberdeen.
But before we would rock the granite city, it made sense to go in search of some hot water. Deke stayed behind to look after the gear because he was the newbie and also because he had no glands.
“Surely the train station has shower facilities?” I asked, not unreasonably as three men, and a cloud of flies, entered Aberdeen Central.
Gordon, tired of our ungodly stench, headed east. Shortly after, he spotted the luminous green livery of a local Holiday Inn.
“That’ll do me,” he thought.
Back in the station toilets, Billy, Jim and I stripped down to our scants. No showers so it was a needs must, good old fashioned scrub in the sink.
At the Holiday Inn though, the Tall One had fashioned a simple but cunning plan. He walked the corridors, checking the doors until he found one that was unlocked. After a last look around for snooping staff, he entered.
In the Station, we were almost done when a besuited middle aged bloke walked in.
Casting a brief eye over our semi naked forms, the old weirdo took himself into a cubicle.
As it was not the first time we’d been perved on that month, we went back to scrubbing.
Gordon, though, had hit the jackpot. Bathing in luxury, the sneaky big fucker prepared for that evening’s show by necking every miniature they were daft enough to leave in the unlocked mini bar.
Just as he’d finished the weeny whisky selection, the door opened and an attractive middle aged lady walked into the bathroom.
“Care to explain yourself, young man?”
Back in the station toilets, we started to hear grunts and groans coming from the cubicle occupied by the middle aged man. We stopped washing.
“He’s not doing what I think he’s doing?” asked Billy.
The groans increased in volume.
“Fuck this,” I said and gave the cubicle door a barefoot boot.
It swung open and there he was, strides down, bent double and clutching his groin.
“Dirty old bastard!”
“You could at least wait until we’re gone before knocking one out,” I said as the old man fell to the floor, still clutching.
“Alright auld fellow. You’ve had yer fun. You can rap it now,” said the Bold Yin.
Seemed the only thing hard about the old dude was his arteries. After seeing him off in an ambulance, we had to hang around to give a statement to the Aberdeen Old Bill. And that statement consisted entirely of the sentences, ‘We’re on stage shortly,’ and ‘Can we please put our clothes back on?’
After our timely intervention, the gig was a welcome distraction. Escaping the cold grip of the granite reaper made us doubly determined not to strike out for a third time.
We played our last tune then headed straight towards the audience with one thing on our minds.
“C’mon guys, let’s make this count,” I said, the sweat still glistening on my gorgeous forehead.
“It’s been a long hard season without rain,” replied the Bold Yin.
Three hours later, all five of us were lying on the floor of some teuchters living room, wrapped in curtains and blankets, snoring heavily.
Zero for fucking three. At least the flat was nice this time. And we weren’t robbed by a fat Whitesnake fan.
In the shadow of the stadium, as the gulls dive bombed the van for the crumbs of our rolls, we carried out our post match analysis.
“God’s honest truth,” smirked the Tall One, behind the wheel.
“So, what happened?” asked Jim.
“She’d just finished washing my hair when the phone in the room went. She got out of the bath and took the call. Something about her husband taking ill in the station toilets…”
So, if it’s Monday it must be …Wick!
Aberdeen to Wick 237m, 5 hours 56 mins
The Royal Borough of Wick or to us lowland softies, the end of the world. OK, just the end of this island. Almost as far north as you can go on the mainland, it also is renowned for having the world’s shortest street, just six feet in length with one door. A slightly lesser known fact about Wick is that this was a town that goes absolutely tonto for rock.
But first, the soundcheck.
“This must be the place…” said Bill.
As the refreshed band hopped out of the back of the van, an understandably bushed Gordon stretched.
“You look knackered, Tall One,” I said, rather unwisely.
“You lot…c’mere!” he replied, minus his usual charm. “If you think I’m spending the rest of my musical career being your chauffeur, think again. Learn to fucking drive.”
“You got it, chief,” said Jim as he, Deke and I headed out of hearing distance.
“Miserable big sod,” I said.
“What’s so difficult about driving a van anyway?” asked Jim
“Must be a lead guitarist thing,” I added.
“Here’s one,” said Deke, “How many lead guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“One,” said Deke. “He holds the bulb and the world has to revolve around him.”
As we pished our pants, we heard a faint shout from the Tall One.
“I heard that!”
Maybe I misjudged Deke…
We were in the process of unloading our gear, when a very large, bearded man approached.
“You must be the band, then? I’m Dougal. Welcome to Wick!” he said, inviting us into the venue.
“Callum,” he shouted to a similarly large and bearded chargehand, “Help these lads with their equipment. You know, we’ve been looking forward to this show. We don’t get many rock bands visiting our wee town. Have you come straight up from Glasgow?”
“No,” said Billy, “We played Aberdeen last night.”
“Aberdeen? I bet those tight bastards didn’t feed you. You must be hungry. We’ll get you fed before you soundcheck.”
Going by what we’ve experienced so far, this could be costly.
We took a seat at a booth near the bar.
“OK, lads…what’ll it be?”
As we emptied the measly, copper contents of our pockets onto the table, I asked sheepishly, “How much is a plate of chips?”
“Don’t be silly, laddie! This is steak country. And what kind of hosts would we be if we made you pay for your dinner?”
Deke put his hand up.
“Excuse me Sir, I’m vegetarian.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that son. Callum!! Take down the big gun, it’s steaks for five.”
Callum headed out into the field and the sound of a gunshot was heard. We sat, mouths agape, in stunned, fearful silence.
He didn’t just…no, he wouldn’t…
Dougal started laughing.
“I bet you all think we shag sheep too? Good grief boys. You didn’t believe we’d actually shoot the cow then feed it to you? We like to do that for our lowland visitors to show that we highlanders have a sense of humour. Shoot the gun, not shag the sheep, that is.”
Phew, that clears things up.
“No,” said Dougal, “that one we’ll carve tomorrow.”
Within minutes, like a pack of sexy, cowboy boot wearing hyenas, we were baw deep in the freshest, tastiest and bloodiest meat imaginable.
What a place! And don’t worry, Deke got a lovely fish dish. These guys really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. So, if it is rock they want, then it is rock they shall have.
At that time, Wick had a population of about 6,000 and on that night, it felt as if most of the town was in that big old barn. What we didn’t know was that a local radio station had been playing tapes of our songs for weeks. So, in front of a very large and sweaty crowd in a giant refurbished barn, we played over three hours of music for them. Every single song in our own repertoire, a few extended jams and a whole host of covers. They just would not let us finish. Thirsty? Here’s another beer. But it felt right to leave everything we had on stage. Well, almost everything…
The next morning, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, buttoned up my shirt and followed my nose into an unfamiliar kitchen. The girl I spent the night with was cooking up breakfast.
“Morning,” I replied.
We sat down at the table and exchanged nods but it was silence as we ate.
“Just to let you know,” she said, “I don’t normally do this kind of thing.”
“No problem. It was just a bit of fun, eh?”
“No,” she said, “As a rule, I tend to only fuck women.”
I choked on my toast as I spluttered,
“I was just wondering what cock was all about.”
As I coughed my food into a napkin, I said, “Well, you did seem to enjoy it.”
“Hmm…” she smiled weakly, “I suppose.”
Wow, thanks for the glowing recommendation.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, searching for the adjective which best suited the latest rocking of her world, “It was really…nice?”
Nice? I’m an all singing, all humpin’ skinny hipped rock god! How was I to know you had shares in Birkenstock, love?
“I guess it just doesn’t feel the same with a man.”
I’ll take your word for it, I thought.
By this point, my plate was empty and seconds were on offer.
“You could be doing with a bit more sausage, George”
Now you’re just being mean.
Pretty soon, it was time to say au revoir to the fair town of Wick. As Dougal and Callum were kind enough to look after our gear after the gig, we rendezvous’ed at the venue to fill up the van and offer our thanks.
“So, did you all enjoy your visit to our wee town?”
“Not played a show like that in ages,” said the Tall One.
The rest of us nodded in agreement.
“Fantastic,” said Dougal, “Would you lads like a bit of food before you go?”
The puddle of drool under our chins told him all he needed to know, so Dougal ordered up four full breakfasts.
And a grapefruit for Deke.
Listen, there’s no shame in having another meal. Anyway, who knows when we’ll eat again?
“So what’s the next lucky town on your schedule?” asked Callum.
“Fort William,” said Jim, “We’ve got a gig in a wine bar.”
Dougal’s demeanour changed. “Which one?”
You mean Fort William has more than one wine bar?
“MacLeod’s Brasserie, I think,” said Deke.
Callum and Dougal sit back down.
“Have you been paid yet?” asked Dougal
“No,” I answered, “Why?”
Callum’s eyes narrowed. “Let’s just say that Mr MacLeod has a bit of a reputation around the Highlands. Watch out for that one, lads.”
Sage advice as it turned out.
Wick to Fort William 200m, 4 hours 54 mins
One more show to go.
Full disclosure time. I have to confess. I never liked wine bars. And everything about places like that sucked big Highland bullocks.
“Keep all of your gear in here until showtime,” said the wine bar’s particularly wankish chargehand. “Mr MacLeod doesn’t want his daytime clientele to be disturbed.”
Aside from three middle aged women nursing white wine spritzers, there was not a soul in the place. Recalling what Dougal said, I chanced my arm.
“Hawl, pal? How’s about a wee advance in lieu of the performance?”
“Not a earthly…pal,” he replied snottily, directing us through a door to the kitchen.
“You can change there. Stay out of sight until show time. And don’t touch anything.”
I always believed that the people who dreamt up the concept of wine bars had delusions of evil, caused by listening to Shakatak records backwards. And once these fake, soulless gateways to Hades went bust, what did they do? That’s right, they started up the modern equivalent; the Irish theme bar.
Now, no one on God’s Green isle knows where the fuck they are because every single road sign is now on a wall in one of these fucking stupid fake taverns.
Anyway, MacLeod’s Brasserie was slightly different to the norm because at the halfway point in our show…this happened.
We’d just finished the final song in our first set and the lights went up. While the boys headed off stage, I was passed a card and ordered to read the script.
“Would everyone form an orderly queue over on the left, my right. Pie, beans and chips will be served during the break. Make sure you present your ticket for inspection and remember, only one pie per patron. We’ll be back in 30 minutes.”
And that is what made the Highlands so unique. I’d hazard a guess that in the cocktail lounges of Manhattan and Mayfair, you’d have to pay separately for your pie, beans and chips.
Returning to the dressing room, which doubled as the bar’s kitchen, I joined my compadres in our ritual warm down of beer slugging and pie munching.
As soon as the chef buggered off, we decided to attempt our very own Glasgow version of the Highland Clearance.
Removing a huge tray of semi defrosted chicken breasts from the fridge, Billy tipped them into a plastic bag before sliding them between the spare leads in his equipment case.
Gordon joins in, passing on a tray of sliced black pudding for a handful of vacuum packed steaks.
Even Deke entered into the spirit, rifling through the pantry looking for MacLeod’s stash of illicit quorn.
With our kitbags bursting at the seams, we headed back out to give the punters another hour of experimental fusion so heinous that it would make Sting want to burn a tyre in a wheelie bin.
Now, we just have to collect £200, pass go, don’t go to jail and head home.
Gordon approached the chargehand.
“Here’s your money,” he said, handing over an envelope.
Gordon counted it. It’s not what was agreed.
“You’re £40 short.”
“That’s what was left by Mr MacLeod,” said the chargehand. “So that’s what you’re getting.”
Gordon removed his glasses and we went straight to…
Defcon 2! Defcon 2!
It took all four of us to restrain our atomically furious guitarist.
“We want our money. Where’s MacLeod?”
“He’s gone home for the night.”
“Well you’d better get him the fuck back here, right now,” replied Gordon.
“Not happening,” said the chargehand, backing away.
“Then we’ll go to his place for the money,” said Billy.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He doesn’t like visitors.”
“And I don’t like being ripped off,” growled the Tall One, launching a discarded plate against the wall.
So, now we’re in a Highland standoff. It’s like its Mexican equivalent. Only colder. And with pies instead of pistols.
“We’ve got a contract,” I added.
“You really don’t know Mr MacLeod, do you?” said the chargehand, nervously.
“His address is on it,” said Jim, “Look. Right here…”
“Let’s go,” said Billy
We jumped in the van and followed his trail out of the town and into the countryside.
Under the cabin light, I scoured a map of the area.
“It’s definitely around here somewhere.”
“There!” shouts Jim, spotting some lights. “That’s it.”
We turned down a long, gravel driveway. At the end, stood a gate and behind it, a very large house. As we pulled up, dogs barked and strong lights turned in the direction of our vehicle. A man approached.
“Turn the engine off!” he shouted. “This is a private road. What do you want?”
Gordon leant out.
“We’re here to see MacLeod,” he said.
“That’s Mr MacLeod to you, son”
The man looked around and was given a sign to let the band through.
We pulled up, got out and approached the main door.
A large man carrying a shotgun and holding the lead of an angry dog walked out of the front door.
“I’m MacLeod. Who the fuck are you?”
“We’re the band. You shortchanged us by £40,” said Gordon
“We want our money,” said Billy.
Jim, Deke and I offered back up, or cowered behind them, dependent on your point of view.
“Forty quid?” laughed MacLeod, “All this for forty fucking quid?”
MacLeod cocked his gun and pointed it directly at us.
“I shot a trespasser last week,” he said. “The boys buried him in the woods. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a bit of company.”
Nice doing business with you, Mr MacLeod, Sir. Goodbye.
“Now get the fuck off my land.”
Back in the van, we headed back towards town, shaken but alive. However, Gordon remained angry.
“I can’t believe we’ve been stiffed.”
And I can’t believe we’re not stiffs, I thought.
“Not a lot we can do I suppose,” said Deke. “We’re up a few quid anyway, lads. We should just cut our losses and head home.”
“No,” said Billy, “it’s the principle.”
“Bold Yin, we’ve got more than £40 worth of food in our bags,” I said. “I agree with Deke. We should call it quits and go back to Glasgow with our heads still on our shoulders. We have run out of options.”
“Not quite,” said Jim.
“We have his signature on the original contract, right?” he asked, “Ok, who can replicate it on this piece of paper?”
We stopped outside the bar and spent the next few minutes practicing MacLeod’s scrawl.
My attempt was the closest.
Then Jim then wrote ‘Pay White £40’ on the scrap with my fake endorsement on it.
“It might just work,” said Gordon. Billy agreed.
Deke and I remained unconvinced.
“Here’s the deal,” said Gordon. “You three stay here and watch the gear. Billy and I will sort this out. If you see MacLeod or his guys arrive, honk three times.”
“On the ceiling if you want me?”
My attempt at gallows humour fell flatter than that pissy Prosecco they’d been punting. Fine. We’ll stay here. Sitting targets. Has anyone got three spare diapers?
As the Bold Yin and the Tall One were escorted back into the bar by a large doorman, we crouched down, silent and petrified.
The next few minutes felt like hours. Every terrifying scenario ran through our minds.
Torture, violence, jazz fusion on loop…
“Look!” shouted Jim.
We did and saw Gordon and Billy emerge from the door and walk over to the van.
The doorman watched on, intently.
“How did it go?”, I asked, anxiously.
“Guys, hold on tight to something. You ready Billy?”
Billy started the engine.
The Bold Yin took off like a Bat out of Helmsdale as the doorman and chargehand rushed into the street after us.
Jim, Deke and I went flying backwards.
“What the fuck happened?” I asked, climbing back over a drum case.
“Did it work?” asked Jim, still upside down.
Rewind to Gordon and Billy arriving back at the bar.
“Not you two again,” moaned the chargehand. “What do you want now?”
“We want our £40.”
“Here you go,” said Billy, slapping down the forged note, “Straight from Mr MacLeod himself.”
“You…you actually went out to Mr MacLeod’s place?” asked the chargehand, shocked.
“Yeah. Big dog,” said Gordon.
“And a bigger shotgun,” replied Billy
“He normally doesn’t like to be disturbed.”
The shellshocked chargehand removed the money from his till.
Gordon counted it.
“I…I…I’ll just give him a call to confirm.”
“Good luck with that,” snorted Gordon.
“Yeah,” added Billy, “He wasn’t happy with us waking him up. But being an employee, I’m sure he’ll be more understanding if you disturb him this time.”
“We’ll just wait in the van,” said Gordon.
The chargehand made the call as Billy and Gordon walked out past the doorman.
The phone rang and for a moment, time stood still.
So loud was MacLeod’s scream down the phone that Gordon said heard it from the street.
The Tall One and the Bold Yin didn’t look back or they’d have seen what we did; one freaked out chargehand shouting at the doorman to stop us.
That’s when Gordon turned round, with a big grin and four £10 notes in his hand.
Fort William to Glasgow 102 mi, 2 hours 7 mins
2hrs 7 mins? That’ll be fucking right. I reckon we shaved an hour off that time!
Once we’d gotten onto familiar roads, the mood in the van was buoyant.
“What’s the difference between the Rolling Stones and a Highland farmer?” asked Deke,
“We don’t know!” We chimed back in unison.
“The Rolling Stones say ‘Hey you, get off of my Cloud!’ and the Highland farmer says ‘Hey MacLeod, get off of my ewe!”
And so endeth our mini tour of the Highlands. We didn’t meet Immortals or fight a Kurgan but we helped the aged in Aberdeen, had the piss ripped out of us by a cheeky old sod in Inverness and in Wick, we rocked like demons, ate like kings and turned a girl off cock for life. Plus, we were a few quid up. All in all, not the worst tour we’d ever embarked upon.
Must have been close to sun up by the time the Bold Yin made it back to the Ponderosa.
“Reconvene at Billy’s tomorrow at 2pm for debrief, split of booty and some Michael Landon,” said Gordon.
“Excellent!”, said Deke, “I love Highway to Heaven.”
Welcome to the band, man.
To be continued…
In case you missed the previous chapters…
Socrates,Tony Bennett and Toblerone
Wendy, Penelope, Felicity and the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Scheme Scum
Talking with the Taxman about Duran Duran, Monster Munch and the Nitshill Ball Lickers
Bella Bella, Billy Bremner
Going Down in a Blaze of Pale Custard
Freddie, Edwyn and the Unbearable Lightness of a B&Q Wardrobe
Penthouse and Payment
The Gospel According to Robert Powell, Mad Alco and the Seven-fingered Jesus of Garnethill
No Sleep ‘Til Strathaven
Barrowland or Bust
The Wrath of Grapes
The Shawlands Redemption