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Touring Musicians

We’re moving house. Crow said he’d fly over and give us a hand.

‘Really, if you had a system this whole ordeal would be a lot simpler. It’s an absolute shambles.’ Crow pecked at papers and jaunty souvenirs from a box I still hadn’t got round to unpacking from the last move. ‘I thought you were over your hoarding phase.’

‘It comes and goes.’ I said.

‘Well you might have warned me. This dust is going to play havoc in my plumage.’ Crow spread his wings and flapped erratically. ‘Here, I’ve got together all your silverware, the clean stuff anyway.’

‘You should have been a magpie Crow.’ I joked.

‘Pica pica’ Crow muttered under with his breath with disdain. ‘Bind it together with tape’ he ordered, ‘to stop it from rattling.’

‘Won’t that leave behind a sticky residue?’ I asked.

‘Don’t worry about that, Hannah can scrub it off.’ He paused for thought. ‘Although she’ll probably leave behind remnants.’ I was inclined to agree with him but refrained so as not to encourage the recent dislike he had seemed to take to her. He had told me earlier in the month that he found teachers collectively condescending and inappropriately fruity.

‘How is the rest of the band?’ Crow asked with an air of fabled nonchalance as he alphabetised a pile of utility bills. ‘Good.’ I said.

‘And morale? How’s morale?’

‘Jovial’. I said. ‘You know, Nathan’s not been on the last few dates either. They’ve been small affairs; out of the way places. We didn’t want to trouble you with the triviality.’

‘Please,’ he said, ‘it’s always more trouble than it’s worth.’ He forced a pathetic laugh. I did too.

‘How’s the Halle? Have you had many dates recently?’

‘Oh, they have a new conductor. I don’t care for him. Eastern European. Pompous old card. No I don’t travel much with them these days.’

There was silence, languid over the rummaging of boxes and papers. ‘We have three days in Helsinki next month. Perhaps you could fly over and meet us. It’s a big show. I’m sure the guys would love to see you.’

‘I don’t want to trouble you.’ He said.

‘No,’ I said, ‘it’d be great; you’ll keep our spirits up. Like in the old days.’ We continued packing in the silence.

‘Where’s the box marked Kitchenware?’ Crowd asked eventually. ‘I have some more spoons.’

We got to the venue in York and were cordially greeted by the promoter – Joe.

“Hi,” he said.  “Is that all of you now then?”                                                                                                “Yep, that’s us all” Nathan said.                                                                                                                        “Ah good” Joe said. “He said you wouldn’t be far behind.”                                                                      “Who said?” Nathan said.                                                                                                                                “The other member of your party.” Joe said.                                                                                              “There is no-one else.” Nathan said.                                                                                                          “Hey?” Joe said.  “That’s funny, he said he was with the band that were playing tonight.”                “Who said?” Nathan said.                                                                                                                               “Well come on inside, he’s just in there waiting.” Joe said.  “He did seem a little odd,” Joe added for measure as we walked down the corridor leading to the performance space. “A little” he paused. “Punctuated.”

Opening the doors at the rear of the venue we stepped into a large room fitted out with wooden chairs and tables.  The room was bordered by old, cosy looking settees.  Red brick pillars absorbed the dim yellow lights and the bar shimmered its brass fittings through shadows at the back of the room.  The place had warm memories of a bygone workingman’s club.  The Duchess it was called.  The stage rested beyond the pillars soaked in a frosty blue light.

“There he is.”  said Joe cheerfully.  “He asked if we would not disturb him till the artists got here.”

There, perched high on the blue spotlight and majestically silhouetted was Crow.

“Crow!” we all cried.  He turned around nonchalantly and greeted us with a bow, lifting a single wing into the air.  He used formality with poise.                                                                                                   “How do you do?” he said.                                                                                                                                “Oh good Crow, really good. How about you?” Nathan said.                                                                         “I have been well, very well, despite my course.” he said looking about him in disdain.                   “Crow,” said Liz. “This is Phil ‘Owley, he plays drums.  Phil this is Crow, he toured Germany with us.” “Hi” said Phil                                                                                                                                            “Delighted, I’m sure,” He turned to Liz. “Have you been breeding again Liz?”

I have to explain here that Crow does not fully grasp the concept of mammals or infact social interaction outside of the family unit.  Despite his upright education he is actually of the impression that Liz laid and hatched each member of the band.  To correct him would be to repulse him on all possible fronts.

“Well I suppose he’ll aid the time keeping.” He turned to me with a look of hopeless incorrectability. “What brings you here Crow?” I said, “I thought you’d flown back to Frankfurt.”                                       “I did,” he said “but then I discovered that you’d forgotten your waistcoat so I thought I’d better bring it to you.”                                                                                                                                                             “But I don’t have a waistcoat” I said.                                                                                                                    “I know you don’t” he said, “which is exactly why I bought you one.”                                                       “Oh well thanks Crow” I said.                                                                                                                            “It’s the least I can do to help with your stage presence.  We can work on your posture another time.” “Are you sticking around Crow?” Liz asked.                                                                                                      “I don’t think I can dear,” he said with a deep remorse. “Concert season is coming up, besides I wouldn’t know where to start in this climate.”                                                                                   “Nonsense Crow, you’d enjoy it here and we’d love to have you.”  Liz replied.

“Well if you still need me I suppose it would be wrong to neglect my duties.  Where’s my dressing room?”

Glasgow is not what it seems…

Or rather Glasgow does not live up to my preconceptions.  I have heard before now that deep fried pizza is a local speciality. It is served with chips and the pizza is wrapped around the chips and the whole thing is eaten like a sandwhich with the pizza replacing the bread.  I leave this culinary dystopian image as a shorthand testament in place of a lengthier resolve in order to save face.  My first actual experience of Glasgow was enjoying a chai-latte in the i-café.  I leave this as a shorthand testament in place of a lengthier expression of astonishment.

The day is hot and sunny.  We waltz up and down the high street popping our head into various charity shops, a Chinese chemist, a pseudo-oldy-worldy furniture shop, the Captain’s Rest.  This latter establishment is where we play.

There are pictures on the walls of the Jolly Roger, Blackbeard and Advertisements for rum. An anchor holds open the door and a life belt behind the bar will save any over zealous drinker from drowning.  The password for the Internet is Moby Dick.

The support act is a young girl called Baby Taylor.  She greets us all with hugs and asks us a barrage of questions whilst simultaneously answering them in no particular order.  I don’t think she is crazy, more she just made the most of the hot weather outside with her friends and a couple of bottles of her choice.  She is defiantly bubbly and we, as happy as we are with our surroundings for the evening are defiantly dry.  So Gus takes a trip to spar to relieve the drought.

By the end of the show we are favourably lubricated.  We say goodbye to friends, some old, some new and climb back into the van for a drive to an Ibis hotel somewhere between Scotland and Manchester for an early morning set off.  Back in the van. It is not unbearable, this time in the van; it just represents a kind of inertia so benign that you almost cease to exist. You become apart from yourself and the rigours of a jump-start, upon alighting, become more and more tiring and more and more questionable so eventually a bad mind becomes yourself.  In this instance, more than a jump-start is not enough and the resuscitation needed to fix your mind must be ritualistic.  A shower, a stretch, some breath, a walk, catch the light, have a meal, make a circle.

The dance begins again. We laugh and we cry. We hide and we seek.  We climb out and into the back of the van…

 

When we arrived back at Gus’s house from the Bristol show it was gone four in the morning.  “Take Maud’s bed.”  He said opening the door to his own rooms.  He turned back with a dejected look in his eye.

“There’s a hog in my bed” he said, “sleeping.”  He returned to the Landing with a genial smile and said that is was no mind and that he could take the settee for the night.   It can often be the case that at Iron Mountain the sleeping facilities are liberally dished out in an instance for the common good.  I could hear the hog grunting and tussling with sleep behind the door.  He sounded like a large fellow.  I thanked Gus for the hospitality and went to bed.

I woke late the next morning and pulling myself out of bed, dressed and went into the Kitchen.  There, I was confronted with a large pig, stood on his hind legs tending to a smoking pan on the oven top that hissed at intervals with alarming volatility.  He was dressed in a three-piece Harris Tweed suit although the jacket was hanging on the back of a chair.  His shirtsleeves were rolled up and over his waistcoat he wore a plastic, chince-patterned apron. I guessed the suit was tailor-made because there was a deliberate hole at the back where from his tail protruded with just cause.                  The kitchen was in chaos; dishes were piled up over and around the sink.  A blackened pan was melted into to the linoleum floor, bottles and jars filled the sideboard in a sticky, blind panic.  By the kettle eggshells created a nest for a soggy heap of watery tea bags.

“Good morning.”

“How do you do?” He said.

“Well” I said, “my name’s Sam” I said extending my hand.

“Oh do forgive me!” he said dropping the spoon and wiping his trotter on his apron.  “I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.  Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Arnold and whom do I have the honour of addressing?”

“I’m Sam.” I said again, raising my eyebrows and dipping my head back into the conversation with a prompting gesture.

“But of course! I’m terribly sorry, you’ve already told me that, I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.”

“No problem” I say.  “A pleasure to meet you.  Would you like some coffee?”

“Ah but relax my dear fellow you have had a long and tiring excursion as I am to take it. No, you just sit there and relax, allow me.  Coffee is on its way along with breakfast – Kippers and eggs. Sunny side up!”  The hog chuckled to himself contently.  He soon handed me a large plate of grilled kippers with two fried eggs and a slice of hot buttered soda bread.

“Bon appetite” he said with a wide brimmed smile.  His smile blanched as a look of grave apology formed when he saw me eye the disarray “Oh but I’m afraid I’m a terribly messy house guest” his countenance lightened again “but I make an excellent pot of coffee” he poured me a steaming cup fresh from the peculator.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I don’t think the guys will mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 5 past 10 in Exeter we have finished playing a modest show to a modest audience.  The van is loaded and we are ready to depart, but the parting is far from us yet.

After our show there is a live hip-hop performance and it is slowly forming around us.   The whole night has unraveled with an odd pace and has left us slightly deflated.  To remedy our sunken spirits Phil ‘Owley suggests a last drink and we readily agree.  The audience filters out and filters in and we find ourselves amongst a new generation.  Saggy denim, languid smiles and nubile breasts fleet past and exhaust my lust and confusion all in one unexpected blow.

The MCs are on stage now and they spit ferociously and cause these young, magnificent creatures to grind their firm bodies through the silty air as if Dionysus himself was present.  We take it in turns to go and stand in the pit and experience the vim – one of us must stay above ground at all times to slacken or tighten the rope when necessary.  Back at the table whilst complaining that we can’t hear the words Nathan’s face becomes sullen as he looks at his beer and lets out an exasperated snigger.  “Are you ok Nathan?” Gus asks.                                                                                                                        “I’ll let you be the judge of that fool.”  He says with venom we’ve never seen in him before.  With that he jumps up pushing the chair to the floor throwing a dagger look to the stage.  As he walks toward the stage he lets slip his belt a notch so his trousers fall a little and hang steadily in accordance with the parlance of the room.  He twists his cap 20 degrees to the right and adopts a kinked left knee in his gait.

Arriving at the stage and making eye contact with one of the MC’s he taps three fingers to his chest twice and asserts them loftily into the air.  The mc reaches down and hoists Nathan up onto the stage.  He grabs a spare mic.  “Yo yo – let’s raise this motherfucka!”   With this gallant cry Nathan grabs his trousers by the balls and begins an onslaught of the lurid vernacular.  A stream of verbs, nouns and adjectives fly forth from his lips as he sways in time to the rhythm of his inflections.  Two girls leap onto the stage and flank him, grinding furiously up and down his torso, one straddling him by the thigh and the other using the force of her buttocks to express her satisfaction with his rhymes.

The rest of the crowd is in uproar, wild undulating cries and ecstasy.  The beats get louder and faster, intense and flawless as Nathan gets fiercer, predatory in his instinct for the English language.  As he leaves the stage he is grabbed and swayed by outstretched hands adorning, desperate to touch the vessel that contains the mighty flow.

We finish our drinks and set out for the hotel.  Renewed by the vigor.  Satisfied with content.  Cooled by the sagacious night stream…

We are in Birmingham.  We are playing at the Glee club.  I’m not sure which of us is laughing and which of us the joke is on.

This is England…

Gus is stood at the entrance to the venue with a bought out coffee when a man approaches him looking for spare change.  It is hard to decipher whether the man is in need of money for food and shelter or in need of fare for travel, either way it is apparent that his need is greater than that of my friend.  He, after all, instigated the approach. It seems Gus has no spare change.  As way of compensation the man offers to take the coffee.  Gus complies and in spirit also offers a humble blessing.

Later.  As way of a rider the venue provides us with 4 bottles of water, 2 bottles of coca-cola and 6 modestly sized bottles of beer.  Oh and of course a triple offer pack of custard creams – this rider is after all for Liz Green.

Of course when our refreshments are depleted we are welcomed to quench ourselves at the bar.  The drinks are not cheap, not even to performers and Gus soon finds himself, in the spirit of humble blessings, at the mercy of a £20 bar bill.

 

 

Later on after the show Gus and I are locked out of the building taking a post show cigarette.  There is no one at hand to let us back in.  In fact, during the whole course of the evening we see no sign of the meet the promoter – perhaps too busy promoting.

Outside a man wearing remarkable Nike air trainers approaches for us some spare change.  He was angry that we didn’t have any and confused at our excuses.

“If you’ve just come of stage you would’ve been paid by now eh?”

In need of compensation for our lack of contribution he wondered if perhaps he should take Gus’s tobacco.

“All of it?” Gus asked.

The man nodded.

“And with it please take my humble blessings.”  Gus added as the well-clothed man walked into the night with a full packet of tobacco and grumbling at our unjust denial of his personal allowance.

I followed his tracks innocently and hovered over an outside mezzanine looking onto a precinct of nightclubs. Young girls crossed the courtyard to and fro wearing nothing but shoes.  I figured their compensating must have been, like Gus’s in the spirit of a humble blessing.