The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories
Play That Thing
I almost walked passed it. A small café, hidden between a newsagent and a kebab shop, on one of the main thoroughfares of Camden. Fifteen years ago the newsagent had been there, but the takeaway had been a record shop. It was 1980, record shops were ubiquitous and I was almost famous.
Everyone at the comprehensive school, in Hertford where I teach, knows that for a couple of years I was a guitarist in Punk/New Wave band, Rancid City (the poor man’s Skids as one rather sneering review described us). A year after I started teaching, there was an article in the NME about punk bands and a large picture of us; with me standing in the middle looking thinner than now and impossibly young. By the end of the following week the whole school knew that Mr Simpson had been in a band and had appeared on Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I was going to meet my friend Ruth in The Falcon, but had plenty of time so walked into the café and bought a cup of coffee and a chocolate muffin. It had not changed much; the same wooden tables with those cheap plastic table cloths, but the coffee was better than I remembered, as was the muffin. The smell of coffee mingled rather pleasantly with the aroma of joss sticks. The décor was still drab and there were reproductions of paintings by Mark Gertler dotted around the walls; I wondered if they had been there when I was last here. I could not remember.
We had been recording our second album nearby, and had popped out after another bust up. It was not going well. Our first album, (called Anschluss for reasons best known to Mick, our singer) had been easy to record. We had plenty of songs from all our touring and we were filled with confidence after our song Wayfarers Arcade had made the top twenty. But a year on we were struggling, we had a few ideas but could not agree on anything. Mick was aiming for a more glam rock sound whilst the drummer Jonathan and I wanted to stay true to our punk roots. Stuart our bass player, and Mick’s friend was acting as a peacemaker, and not enjoying the role. And underneath it all was the fear that Mick was going to up and leave us, form a new band or go solo.
Jonathan stormed out of his recording booth, throwing his sticks to the floor in frustration.
“I hate this pretentious crap” he shouted.
“Oh come on” muttered Stuart “It isn’t that bad. We just need to work on it. We are just trying out new ideas,”
“Oh Jesus; I don’t want to sound like Roxy fucking Music”. I could not help but agree.
Mick stood there, clearly wanting to say something but knowing that if he did that would be the end of us.
Jonathan hurried out, and the large wooden door slammed behind him. The rest of us looked at each other. I walked out a minute later and found Jonathan smoking outside the entrance, looking angry and depressed. I joined him and we smoked desultorily. After a couple of minutes the other two appeared, and without a word we walked four abreast down the high street until we found this café, and walked in. It was empty apart from a waitress sat at one of the tables.
Mick sat at his own table, whilst the rest of us sat together. We drank coffee, and everyone apart from Mick smoked. There was a juke box, and the waitress, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt kept putting music on; The Clash and The Undertones mostly. It was early spring and cold. The café’s small heater was inadequate.
Mick was a charismatic presence and our fans loved him, but I doubted he had the voice to make it big, although he would have to find that out for himself. It was probably the end of Rancid City I thought. I was sad; it had been fun but my parents would be relieved, they wanted me to settle down before it was too late. That morning I had sent off for some college prospectuses as I followed my plan B to go into teaching.
Mick sat back, tapping with hands on the table in time to Police and Thieves which was playing. He seemed down as well, although with more bravado than the rest of us. The waitress asked us if we wanted anything more to drink. She was young, late teens like us and pretty underneath thick white make up. Her hair was long and black and she had a slight French accent.
She sauntered over to make us more coffee and put another record on. At first I did not recognise it. The sound of guitar, and then the frenetic drumming coming in, a real energy about it. Then I realised it was our hit Wayfarers Arcade. Mick’s voice came in, loud and strident, as much shouting as singing. I think we were all a little bored of that song by now; it was one of the first things we had written and we had played it so many times. But sitting in the café, with the sound of traffic outside, it sounded urgent and rather good.
Jonathan pushed himself up and started dancing about the café in basic time to the song; avoiding the tables and the waitress, who stood there with a slight smirk watching him move. Suddenly she joined in, although with more grace. They gazed at each other as they vaulted around the small room, but never touched. The rest of us looked at each other, and for the first time in a while we exchanged smiles.
I remembered recording it; there had been a real air of excitement, which I had forgotten, as we heard it for the first time sitting in the studio with our producer Dan. We knew it would be big; it was too good not to be. All our enthusiasm and raw talent had combined to produce this awesome, life affirming sound. Sometimes you don’t need anybody else to tell you how good something you have done is, you know. For a few minutes we were in awe of what we had created.
The song came crashing to an end; the guitar’s (my guitar’s) vibrations fading into silence. Jonathan sat back down without a word and the waitress went over to make us some more coffee; her perfume still hanging in the air.
Mick moved over to our table and pinched a cigarette off Russell. He looked at each of us in turn as he smoked. And we knew that we would carry on, at least for now.
© Andrew Lee-Hart December 2015
fridge2 at hotmail.co.uk
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