Into Music: The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard – Chapter 7
EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD
The true story of the greatest band you’ve never heard
Episode 7 – Penthouse and Payment
If an Englishman’s home is his castle, what kind of residence could a Scotsman rent, in 1985, for the princely sum of £17.50 per week? A tent? An adobe haçienda? A shite splattered doocot? Well, according to the advert in the Evening Times, ‘A splendid penthouse flat in the heart of the City Centre’, that’s what. I would say that this was the minimum requirement for the newly-crowned, self-anointed – King of Glasgow. And given my recent upswing in fortunes, both off stage and on, my need for private living space had increased incrementally.
Near the top of a street named after another one of Glasgow’s many plantation-owning, slave-exploiting, tobacco lords, sat the towering Britannia Building. Two hundred feet of mighty Gothic splendour, its red brick slicing through the silvery skyline. This was just the ticket. Except that it wasn’t. In what could be the tagline for this tale, I was to learn that behind an attractive facade, not every strut shines.
Pushing my way through the heavy double doors, I took the rickety, unserviced elevator to the fifth floor reception area. A number of waifs and strays sat on the bolted-together plastic seats, awaiting their turn. One by one, they were called over to the desk where they handed over their money to a lady with a flowery blouse in exchange for a set of keys.
I hadn’t come here to queue though. Not with this hairstyle.
“Hi!”, I said, keen as Colman’s. “I’ve come about the ‘splendid penthouse flat’ as advertised…” As I pointed to the ad, I heard sniggering from the row of other potential tenants.
“Take a seat. Mr Turpin will see you shortly.”
Minutes later, a hefty man popped his head into the reception area, like a balding meerkat at a forty-five degree angle.
“City Centre Penthouse?”, he yelled.
“Here!”, I responded, quicker than anyone else.
I suppose a letting agency called Dick Turpin Estates should have set off a few alarms. But I was young, dumb and full of…
“Come into my office, young lady.” he said.
OK, my hair was long and there may have been an eye liner issue but this wasn’t the first time I was subject to gender confusion that week…
Back at the Tax Office, I’d been walking around, doing Her Majesty’s bidding, armed with a winning smile and some tightly bound files, filled not with complex financial details but with comic books and snatch mags, when I ventured a little too close to the desk of the office fundamentalist; Brody and her long suffering desk mate, the quite lovely Karen.
“What is the world coming to?” said Brody, loud enough so that I would hear.
Karen was still switched off following Brody’s earlier rant about why Pakistanis didn’t love Jesus as much as she did. “Sorry Brody, what was that?”
“I said…” her shrill voice reaching a pitch known as ‘Dogs in Space’, “what is the world coming to? Everywhere you turn you’ve got the gays … and I will not buy anything from the trolley until that horrible wee man is fired. This is a government building, for heaven’s sake. How would Queen Elizabeth, our Monarch, feel about the fact that there is a homosexual effectively working for the government? The Bible says, and I quote, that ‘man shall not lay with man’. It’s in the Bible, the law of the Almighty. And now…” she said, pointing at me, “will you look at this one?”
“I think he’s quite nice actually.” said Karen, quietly.
Brody didn’t listen. “He’s a disgrace! With all that hair and make up…I really can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl.”
And that was the moment I dealt with my first official heckler.
“Well Brody, if you can’t tell, why don’t you suck my boab and you’ll find out?”
She gasped, inhaling sharply before her cheeks exploded into colour. Imagine the blood of her saviour, after he totalled all of the Red Kola on wee Alex’s tea trolley. That level of puce. I’m sure our Lord would have pished his loin cloth at that comeback and given me a holy hi-five into the bargain.
Back at Turpin Towers, we had some negotiating to do before I got my hands on my first flat.
“What I’ll need is references from your employer…”
Hmmm…after the ‘Brody Incident’, tricky but doable.
“and from a professional person, not a relative, mind.”
I think Donny still has some headed notepaper he swiped from the Church of Scotland.
OK? And …
“One month’s rent in advance and one month’s deposit. Up front.”
Shit. £17.50. Time four. Twice. Calculator!!!???
“How soon do you need it?”
Turpin sat back and stretched his colourful braces. “As soon as I get the money, the flat’s gone.”
Son of a bitch. Small print, eh? I’ve got about £40, £100 short of what I need. Time to make a few calls.
Surely my buddies in the band will help?
Initial reactions though, weren’t positive. Donny laughed in my face, Jamesey turned out the empty pockets of his corduroys and Brido just ignored me.
I understood their reluctance but they’d clearly not thought about the opportunity I was presenting them with. A city centre bedroom, free of charge, when I’m not there of course. The pulling power of that could not be underestimated, surely?
So, Donny sold his old man’s Jim Reeves collection, Jamesey raided his piggy bank and Brido dug a couple of tenners from a sock buried under his bed. Just another £20 to get and this part was always going to be the hardest.
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it, Mum.”
“It’s a lot of money, Son”
“I know”, I said, the guilt coursing around me.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Absolutely. It means the boys can get their own room and you’re not worried about me coming in every night, making a racket with my guitar and keeping the family up.”
“I’ll still worry about you.”
“I know Mum”
“Well, If you’re sure…it will be helluva quiet around here without you climbing in and out the windows every night.
“Ach, sorry Mum.” I said, embarrassed.
She went into the emergency tin in the kitchen and emptied it.
“Don’t forget to call me and you can come home for your dinner if you’re hungry. I don’t want you sitting in some wee hovel, freezing and starving.”
I gave her the biggest hug and said, “It’s not a hovel, Mum. It’s a penthouse!”
Back to Turpin Towers in jig time, I cut the queue, head into the big man’s office and slap down the references AND £140 on his table. Turpin signed the lease and slid the keys my way.
Chuffed as fuck, I walked up the back of Renfrew St, past the Chinese supermarkets, marvelling at my new patch.
I checked the rental agreement and looked again at the picture of the flat in the advert. Not so much a picture, more an artist’s impression. Never mind, I’m sure it’ll have a luxurious interior.
I climbed the stairs to the top floor, and opened the door. Inside the flat was a long and spartan hallway with doors numbered 1 to 4. Mine was Number 2. I pushed open that door to find a single corner room, with a bed under a bricked up fireplace. Aside from the bed, the room was completely bare and a bit tatty. Number 2 right enough. But to me, and to my friends, it was the fucking Playboy Mansions. And I was just round the corner from my new place of worship; The church of the patron saint of perpetually jangly hopefuls, St Nico’s. And at its altar, stood the impenitent Gordon. Naturally, we proclaimed the good news over some premium Belgian booze. The first one went down as easy as the tyres on a schemie’s Sinclair C5.
“Another Stella, young man? I’m buying.”
“Why the hell not Tall One! I’m celebrating.”
“I’m heading over to the Bold Yin’s later if you want to come. We’re putting down a few ideas I’d like you to hear.”
“Great! Count me in.” I replied, gleefully battering fuck out of my pint.
Clearly not yet versed in the way of the serious afternoon drinker, the Stella started to take its toll…
What happened next, I cannot accurately recall but it was relayed to me thus. We had another Stella. Then another. Probably two more after that. Then we, sorry I, got chips. We boarded a bus to the Pollokshaws Road and took a seat up on the top deck. Seemingly, for every chip I devoured, another I lobbed at the other passengers, much to their chagrin. For the first time in our relationship, but certainly not the last, Gordon apologised on my behalf.
By the time we got to Billy’s, to use the local vernacular, I was fucking stocious. While Gordon and Billy jammed, I curled up on the Bold Yin’s wanking chariot.
“Hoi you, get off my bed” he yelled, only partly in jest.
“Fuck you Billy. Fuck you…” I slurred back.
“You’d better not go for a pish when you’re down there” he warned.
“Arrgghhhhhaaa”, I replied, deadly serious.
Gordon and Billy continued their noodling out of earshot.
“So what do you think, Bill?”
“I don’t think he’ll leak but I’ll keep an eye on him from here so…”
“No”, interrupted Gordon. “What do you think about what we talked about?”
‘Oh, that? They’re a bit rough but I’ve been humming his tunes all week. Needs a bit of discipline but he’s got a good voice. But the songs … they’re catchy fucking songs.”
Gordon nodded in agreement. “I know. If we can convince him to join…”
“It frees us up to concentrate on what we do.”
I might have been steaming in the next room but I had my say too.
“Fuck the two of yous.”
“We’ve just got to keep him away from the booze.” said Gordon.
Never a truer word was spoken.
“C’mon lightweight,” said Gordon, lifting me from Billy’s cot, “time to get you home.”
“I’ll get Devon to speak to him.” said Billy, checking his sheets for pish stains.
Gordon somehow managed to get me back to my flat where Brido was ‘housesitting’ with a young consort. Gordon dropped me onto the bed and left Brido and the bird to do the onerous task of removing my cowboy boots.
I awoke to a Belgian bitch of a headache and a note sellotaped to my headboard.
It read…Morning Sleeping Beauty. Give Devon a call.
Strange. Maybe he wants to manage the Molotovs?
We arranged to meet in a quiet pub, up west. Away from prying eyes. I arrived just after one. Devon was already there, waiting.
“Tea, if they have it.”
“A bit fragile?”
You don’t know the half of it, I thought.
Devon returns with the refreshments.
“So, what’s this about?” I asked
“I’ve got a proposal for you.”
“The boys would like to hire you. To be lead singer of MOT. You’ll be paid the same as Gordon and Billy and in the fullness of time, you’ll get the chance to record some of your songs.”
“Not bad eh?” said Devon,
The realisation kicked in. Wow. I knew that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, something I’d dreamed of. But…
“Well?” asked Devon, surprised that I’d not ripped his arm off.
Jesus. Here goes.
“Sorry Devon but no.” I said, my heart racing faster than a fat kid sitting at the window waiting to hear the Dr Zhivago theme from a van.
“What?”, he replied, stunned.
“The answer is no.”
“Are you off your fucking head?” he said, half-raging, half in disbelief.
I wasn’t off my head. I’d gone over this in my head a thousand times. A couple of months ago, I’d have been as happy as a dug with two dicks if I was invited to join MOT. But here’s the thing. I genuinely believed that I was writing songs that spoke to me. And for me. The reception at the Doune gig just confirmed it. My self belief was Ashford and Simpson; Solid. Deep down, I knew that Jamesey’s heart wasn’t in it with Uni and all that, Donny was game but very limited and Brido? Well, if he’d shown any indication that he’d go the distance, the conversation Devon and I were having would have been over before I dunked my Bourbon Cream. It was always about Brido but the truth was that he needed to work more than he needed to rock. The money was steadier and that goes a long way when you have none. But this is where my pragmatism kicked in. I knew I had a strong hand and I was intent on playing it.
‘I’ve got a proposal for you.”
“Go on…” he replied, curious.
“I’ve written a couple of things recently that my guys just can’t get down. However much we rehearse, they just can’t make them sound like I want them to, you know?”
“I’d like to see if Billy and Gordon can get more out of my songs. A fresh approach. Not MOT, not the Molotovs. Something new.”
Devon was intrigued.
“Interesting. I’ll speak to the Tall One and the Bold Yin about this right away.”
“You do that.”
Devon goes to make the call and my previously cool facade cracks. Holy fuck. I’m going ball deep with this. The excitement of getting to play with exceptional musicians in top venues is tempered by the implications of my duplicitous scheming. If I go, I’ve sold my mates out. Simple as that. Guys I’ve known since childhood, binned. But if I stay, am I selling myself short? What will my friends think of me? Judas? Understandable. Chancer? Definitely. As I await Devon’s return, I have a very heavy heart.
The moment of truth arrived.
“Let’s go.” said Devon.
Back at Billy’s place…
“So that’s it?” asked Gordon.
“Seems to be.” replied Billy. “ MOT is no more.”
“We’d better tell Mel and Mondo.”
I sat in Devon’s car and didn’t say a word from Partick to the Pollokshaws Rd. Once we arrived, Devon was keen to get started but he’d forgotten that there was still business to conclude. He persisted.
“Right guys, I’ve got a few ideas as to…”
I cut him dead. “Not now Devon.”
“Do you want me to speak to the lads?” asked Gordon, sympathetically.
“I’ll do it … if you want mate.” Billy chimed in.
“No, this I need to do myself.”
Billy passed me his phone and cracked open the Scotch.
I started with Brido but his number was engaged. Donny’s too.
“Looks like it’s Jamesey first then.”
And so began one of the most awful moments of my life.
“Jamesey, can you talk?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“Don’t know how to say this but, I’m leaving the band.”
“Phew, that’s a relief. “
“George, I like you mate but … I’ve always hated playing your fucking songs. No offence like… “
“It’s nothing personal but I’ve been jamming with these guys from Maryhill for the last couple of weeks. Didn’t know how to tell you…or the lads.”
“That’s cool mate.”
“It’s been fun though.”
“Yeah, it has.”
Fuck, that came out of the blue. In the future, Jamesey became a property developer in New Mexico and learned how to use that magnificent implement he’d been hiding down his corduroys all those years. Now, the tricky part…
“What’s up Geo man?”
“I don’t know how to tell you this Skull but…”
He hardly said a word but I could tell how deeply my decision cut.
The final call.
I told him straight. Silence. I then tried to justify it by blurting out a string of platitudes and incoherent pish. It didn’t help.
His response was curt.
“Tomorrow night. Knockers. At 7.”
Gordon poured me a large measure. Three fingers. Four, if you’re Jeremy Beadle.
I was done.
In case you missed the first six 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