Into Music: The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard – Chapter 6
EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD
The true story of the greatest band you’ve never heard
Chapter 6 – Freddie, Edwyn and the Unbearable Lightness of a B&Q Wardrobe
Kelvingrove is done, the food trucks are gone and Glasgow’s rock faithful have headed off in search of the perfect pint of heavy. Us? We headed to the Doune for our soundcheck. This is where someone called a ‘sound technician’ uses all of his expertise to make bands appear less shite than they actually were. Fluent in a language so strange and dense, these moontanned wizards deserved medals. Or a cuddle at worst. We ‘check’ our last song. It struck me that this was actually the first time we’d even been on a proper stage.
The faders went down on the mixing desk.
“Fine”, said the soundman. “That’ll do for now, boys”
Within minutes of us leaving the stage, the doors to this part of the bar opened and people started to flood in.
At this point, I have to admit that, technically, this wasn’t my first paid, professional performance.
Back in that classy late-70’s living room, myself and school chums Wardy, Mikey and Gerry were challenged by my old man, who’d recently returned from a session at The Royal Oak, to sing the number one song of the day.
“And you’ve got to dae the dance anaw!”, he demanded, laughing at the prospect.
Fuck off you old cunt, we thought.
At that moment, he played his ace card. A single, crisp one pound note, straight from his pocket.
“Split it among the four of youse”, he said.
Our eyes widened.
A quid? Jesus. That’s a bottle of Irn Bru, 4 packets of Golden Wonder, a Mars Bar, some Chelsea Whoppers AND a double nougat….EACH.
A couple of bars of ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ coming right up, Pops. Ya dancer.
Back to the Doune, getting busier by the second. A friend caught my attention and gave me a rock horns salute.
Oh, fuck. Now it’s real. Really real. No hiding place. I started running. Tension gnawed at my guts as if I’d swallowed a rat. I’m completely bricking it, metaphorically and literally. Through the side door, through the corridor where the empty crates were stacked, I weave through this yellow plastic maze. Another door, on one side, a burst couch and a mirror above a sink and, to the left, yet another fucking door, this one on a sliding rail and … I was safe. From there on in, no matter where I played or how big the audience was, prior to stepping out, I spent some quality time here, in my sanctuary; The Can. I’ve played some toilets in my time but…
Outside the sliding door, Jamesey enquired as to my health.
“You alright mate?” His ear pressed up against the scuffed, matt-black paint of the door.
I was literally shiteing myself. And puking.
I’m fine, I said. The splattering continued, echoing as would a pot of lumpy mince being emptied into an industrial waste disposal.
It was multi directional. Definitely not to be used as part of a healthy diet. Once those nerves had taken hold, the terror had become more intense. What if I forget the words? Or go blank and bottle it? What happens if my fly’s undone and everyone can see the hole where my genitalia has disappeared into?
Meanwhile, Donny was taking it all in his stride. Standing by the mirror, he peeled off layer after layer of t-shirts. The last layer was a black sleeveless number featuring a golden bat with an impressive erection.
“Geo?”, he asked.
“I’’m thinking of going with Sex Vampire tonight, what do you reckon?”
He flexed his muscles, impressing no one but himself.
“Bllleeeaauuugghhh…..” I said, hurling between my legs and into the pan. “Good choice man.”
Brido entered the dressing room and cool as you like, starts working on his mullet,
“Remember those girls from the festival?”, he said.
Donny and I reply in the affirmative.
“Well, they’re out there, right at the front….”
And just like that, a selection from Wagner’s Glasgow inspired follow up to ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, entitled, ‘The Evacuation of Geordie’s Muck.’
As Brido opined on the physical qualities on show,
“Quite unimpressed with the chestage, I have to say”, Donny offered up an ancient incantation to his T-shirt in a suitably Lugosian accent.
“C’mon baby, work your voodoo for me one more time…”
And so these four children of the night took the long walk of truth, from the dressing room to the stage. Schoolmates, friends, family members – and those flat chested girls from the festival – were all there, cheering, showing support.
Years later, I’ve never forgotten the swell of emotions that encapsulated those brief moments. The fear, the anticipation, everything that I’d ever hoped it could be. It’s funny but as soon as I was on the stage, the nerves just seemed to disappear. Gone. Standing there, at the microphone, felt as natural as breathing. I didn’t freeze and I didn’t blank. Frank and beans, back where they should be. It was time to rock.
We played our seven songs and remarkably, we went down a storm. We were even dragged back on for an encore which as we only had seven songs might have been an issue. With this crowd, it wasn’t. Time passed in an instant. MOT played their gig and invited us to join them for their encore. The packed pub was bouncing.
When time was called, the lights rose and the punters left. Both bands helped the sound crew pack up. The bar manager handed an envelope to Devon and from it, he counted off a couple of notes, stuffing them into the palm of a delighted Brido.
“That’s your share of the takings. Don’t spunk it”
Brido looked at the cash in wonderment, like a magic carpet (fitting) urchin who has just been given a paraffin lamp in need of a buff.
For me, the money wasn’t important. Dazed, I perched at the edge of the stage. Gordon joined me and for a moment, we sat together in silence.
“Enjoy that, youngster?”
I nodded but couldn’t speak.
“Now you know what you have to do with the rest of your life.”
He put his arms around my shoulder, ruffling my hair with his knuckles before leaving me to his thoughts.
There are moments of sublime joy in life, like the birth of one’s children, discovering true love and all the usual events that people mention – stuff that is perfectly valid and honest but right at this moment, my short life felt complete. Completely complete. If a comet hit the Kingston Bridge causing the banks of the Clyde to burst, flooding the pub in a ‘Deep Impact’ kind of moment, apart from the lack of penetrative sex, I could not have died a more contented man. But hawd the bus…
“That was … magic.” said Melissa, the girl from Kelvingrove.
“Thanks.” I said, bashfully.
“What are you doing now? If you want, you can walk me back to my room. For a coffee.”
“I really need to get the gear back to base. But we’ve got an after party at the Viva, if you fancy it?”
“I’m off back to Aberdeen, first thing in the morning”, she said.
“Look, here’s the number of the place I’m staying. If you change your mind.”
“Here’s a ticket for the party if you change yours.” I said. The cute teen badinage couldn’t last. Brido appeared, ever the pragmatist.
“C’mon mate, we need to go. I’ve got to get the gear back before the party”
Melissa leant over and planted a kiss on my cheek. She might have said something like “You were awesome”…but I honestly can’t remember. The truth is that the moment is sometimes more powerful than the words.
While love-dazed me was being dragged away to the van by Brido, Donny stood outside the pub, signing autographs and offering sexual favours to his new found fans.
“Who wants to go to the after party?”
An excited cheer went up.
“And who’s gonna suck the Skull’s bad boy for a ticket?”
Donny’s offer went down as well as one would’ve expected; the now appalled faithful deciding that a night cap with Esther Rantzen and the skelly guy in the big chair might be preferable to debasing themselves with our bass player.
“Oh come on!”
One geeky girl remained.
“Well?”, asked an unimpressed Donny.
“I’ve got chips.”
“Beat it, son.”
“And I’ll take a ticket…”
“Really?” spluttered Donny.
Fearing a band set up, he looked around but we were nowhere to be seen. One nil the Skull. He placed his arm around her shoulders and together, they walked off down the Broomielaw.
‘’Can I ask you a personal question? I …ahem …my friend has a …sort of moral dilemma. He reckons it’s alright to wank off in front of your dog but personally, I’m no’ sure.”
In the future, this geeky girl will show her chebs on a website, have her own cookery show and marry a very successful sesame seed bar-eating vegan rock star.
Back at the pub, Gordon and Billy had finished loading their van. Brido, Jamesey and I followed them back to their base to dump the equipment before heading to the party. We pulled up in front of a tenement block beside the service station and started shifting amps, guitars and kit up three flights. 345 Pollokshaws Road. Billy’s flat, gear storage and temporary studio. This old sandstone building is where the magic happens.
Brido had one end of a very large trunk.
“Where the hell did Donny disappear to?”
I had the other end.
“ I’m going to wring his fat fucking neck.”
Jamesey, picking up the rear with a few lightweight leads and cables, kept his own counsel on the matter.
As we entered the flat, Billy threw us a couple of tins of beer.
“You coming to the after-party, bold yin? Should be a blast.”
“Nah, we’ve still got to lay down a few tracks tonight.”
“We’ll party when we’ve made it.” said Gordon, the buzz killer. “But Stevie will probably go.”
In the next room, Billy’s flatmate Stevie, was trying to nail a guitar lick. This is a very technical term. You may not understand it. A ‘lick’ is a riff. What is a riff? It’s how guitarists publicly masturbate. What it also meant was that Gordon’s temper was sitting at DefCon 3. “He’s making a cunt of that.” he snarled.
Billy turned to us and explained. “He’s been playing the fucking ‘Heat is On’ since Thursday, breaking only for short bursts of sleeping, pishing and dods of Heinz Cream of Tomato. Gordon was about to go Three Mile Island on the hapless Stevie. “For Christ’s sake!” he roared, battering his door open. Gordon grabbed the guitar from the hands of Bill’s kimono wearing flatmate and said…
“It’s not a diminished 5th, it’s a minor fucking seventh! Jesus! Listen!”
Gordon played the piece perfectly before thrusting the guitar back into the hands of the bemused Stevie.
“You’re right. So it is!! Cheers big ears!” he said with a grin.
One reason he hasn’t heard us come in was because he was actually 60% deaf, which can be a bit of a bummer if you’re trying to work out the finer points of Glenn Frey canon. Stevie was one of life’s charmers and pretty much ego-free, which made him a rarity among guitarists. We’ll see more of Stevie later.
Stevie looks around, surprised to see his room is full.
“Make yourselves at home. Soup anyone?”
He stood up and the kimono he was wearing, which clearly belonged to a much smaller female, fell open. Everyone looked away, except Billy, who put his shades on.
That was not what I meant when I said, ‘We’ll see more of him later’
Jamesy looked at his wristwatch and said, “Guys, we’ve got to go.”
He was right. The Viva waiteth for no man.
Brido, Jamesey and myself bolted rocket-style, down the stairs of the tenement and onto the street…
Three Pounds and seventy five pence later, we were back in the city, ready to enjoy our big night.
Hail the conquering heroes! This was the Disco Viva and we were the magnificent warriors of the Doune! Valhalla!!!! It is time to take our bounty.
“Boysies! Over here!”, shouted Donny.
Brido and I passed through the crowd, shaking hands and taking drinks. Jamesey followed behind. We arrived at the table that Donny sequestered and partook in an obligatory, celebratory group hug.
“Where did you bugger off to?” I asked Donny.
“Just had to speak to a girl about a dog. Cigar?” Jamesey took one, sparked it up and to the boinging bassline opening of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up’, went bopping onto the dancefloor, urging us to join him.
I still have photos of that night. Those faded, poorly focussed pictures entirely encapsulate what it meant to be eighteen. For that one magical moment, everything was possible. Especially when you’re the new King! But every King needs his Queen.
‘Tonight, I’m gonna have myself, a real good time. I feel ali..i…i…ive!!’
Pre-Live Aid, Queen may not have been considered remotely as cool as Orange Juice, but upon hearing that opening line, a primal roar went up and every rocker, jangly and schemie in the place was pulled towards the dancefloor by some sonically magnetic force way beyond our limited comprehension. Billy was right, cool IS subjective. And for me, nothing was cooler at this juncture than going full Freddie.
As I bounced through the dry ice, around the illuminated dancefloor like a deranged cat, I was taken by the attention I was receiving from girls, from school, college and the office, who previously hadn’t been aware of my existence. My pulling power was now at an all time high. It was amazing what one sell out gig could do for one’s podgering prospects. But there was someone who’s gonna be on the early bus to Aberdeen that was still on my mind.
I fished out the number, put ten pence into the machine by the coat-check room and made the call.
“Hi? Is Melissa there? Yeah… it’s half twelve. Sorry about that!”
I’m sure the unimpressed voice at the other end of the line called me a ‘dickhead’. No complaints from me. Then I heard her…
“Hello?” she said, sleepily.
“Hey. Just thought I would call you to see if you want to come down to the party.”
“But I was asleep.”
“Sorry. I thought…Sorry.
Shit. Wrong end of the stick. You overreached there, my boy.
There was silence.
“You could come over…if you want? For a coffee?”
“Not a big fan of coffee”, I said, completely missing the point.
“You could have tea, I suppose” she replied.
“Cool. Milk and one.”
I left the club and walked about half a mile to the address Melissa gave me. I knocked on the door quietly and Melissa opened it, ushering me into the house and into the living room where she’d been sleeping.
“So, any chance of a biscuit with my tea? Custard Cream, Bourbon…”
I’d barely finished my list of biscuitatorial demands before she dragged me to the floor.
The sun shone over Glasgow that morning and it was majestic.
I left the flat after saying goodbye to Melissa. She said she’d sleep on the bus back North. I walk back through town, with my leather jacket slung over my shoulder and the taste of Melissa still in my mouth. As this magnificent day drew to an end, I don’t want to close my eyes and I don’t want to fall asleep. And if I’d been as smart as those Aerosmith blokes, I’d have written that down and made a million.
I stopped at the newspaper vendor at the corner of Sauchiehall Street and Union Street. He bid me a good morning. How are you today? Me? I’m very good. How good, you say? Well, not only have I’ve just been crowned king of all Glasgow but I rode Melissa like Lester fucking Piggott, leaving her shaking like a B&Q wardrobe. All in, I’d say that wasn’t a bad day’s work. But the seed had been planted. Like an addict, I wanted to experience this high again and soon.
I reached The Viva as the last of the stragglers were hanging about, waiting for cabs. I spoke with a few of the less inebriated ones who told me that the band was still in Dunkin’ Donuts: the last post for shaky teenagers waiting for the first bus, hookers looking for a temporary sugar hit and junkies trying to clean out both.
The boys were sitting in a booth counting out the last of their pennies. While Jamesey was almost asleep on the table, Brido held a cup full of ice against his privates. Given how early it was, the blond vampire Donny, remained remarkably, and possibly chemically, animated.
“How are we doing boys?”
“Good.” he said. “We’ve spent all the money.”
“All of it? Where’s my share?” I asked
“You weren’t here …and…we were starving.”
“How the fuck are we going to get home?”
“Walk I suppose.”
Brido groaned, “I’m not fucking walking anywhere.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
Jamesey lifted his head from the table and said, “Frank Sinatra, that’s what.”
I don’t know if this is tradition anywhere else but in Glasgow, the last song in a nightclub, particularly one like The Viva, tends to be Ol’ Blue Eyes singing ‘New York, New York’. Right before the lights go up, everyone who’s still standing, gathers in a large circle, locks arms and high kicks their way through the song. Usually with disastrous consequences for some unlucky sod. This time, it was our Brido who took a size ten….right in the sacks.
“Can anyone please get me some more fucking ice!” yelped Brido at the counter staff.
As we headed south across the river, we said our goodbyes at the Laurieston Corner. Donny and Jamesey headed down the Paisley Road West while I threw my arm under the oxters of the wounded Brido, helping him walk.
“Beatles songs.” he moaned in agreement.
“Two of us riding nowhere, spending someone’s hard earned pay…”
We’re on our way home. Only six miles to go.
Little did we know but that glorious night would be the beginning of the end for my foreskin, Brido’s right stone and ….The Molotov Cocktails.
In case you missed the first five 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
Chapter 5 – Going Down in a Blaze of Pale Custard