More reasons why I’m not a pop star…
This is a post about being a teenage rock wannabe, and follows on from “We Need To Talk About Kevin”.
Our bass player, Chris, was Robbie Williams ten years early. By far the best-looking member of our band, he had natural charisma, fashion sense and dancing ability. He wanted to be a rock star, but wasn’t too bothered about the “rock” bit: from time to time he toyed with the idea of joining a boy band, but unfortunately our bit of the world tends to produce lumpen, ruddy-faced blokes who look like potatoes so there wasn’t a Take That to accommodate Chris’s Robbie.
Chris knew the importance of image, and before long he and Kevin started to talk about on-stage clothes. David the drummer paid a bit of attention, but I didn’t really understand the point. I’ve always been a “I will wear this to cover my nakedness” kind of person, Ricky Tomlinson to Chris’s David Beckham.
We were booked to play in Irvine, in an upstairs venue called Bay 63 (there’s a European Union Directive that states all venues must have terrible names). Chris and Kevin were late, because they’d been up in Glasgow looking for stage clothes. Kevin had bought a really horrible ruffled white shirt (which, surprise surprise, looked very like one Bono wore), and Chris had bought shoes.
Let me tell you about Chris’s shoes.
These were no ordinary shoes.
These were suede shoes.
Blue suede shoes.
He was delighted, and with good reason: they were possibly the ugliest, bluest shoes that had ever been created, a blue so blue that the word “blue” isn’t enough. Imagine something bluer than the bluest thing ever created, then add a bit more blue. He asked me what I thought. “Hmmm,” I said. “They’re very blue.”
Fashion chat over, we lumped our gear up the stairs to the venue and set up where the soundman told us to. As ever, I was stage right; Kevin was in the middle; Chris was up by the smoke machine, stage left. We soundchecked, worried about whether the waxed floors would make it hard for the drumkit to stay in place, decided they wouldn’t, headed off for something to eat and wandered back to Bay 63 just before we were due to play.
The venue was transformed. When we’d been there earlier it was a big room with shiny floors and a patina of nicotine, but by the time we’d shoved some hamburgers down our necks it had become Rock Heaven. There was smoke – boy, was there smoke. There was a crowd, many of whom were pierced in various interesting ways. And there were lights. Boy, were there lights.
I think they’re called sweeper spots: very bright, very focused beams of almost laser-like light that sweeps around a room. The combination of the sweepers and the smoke gave an eerie, strobe-like quality, the belching white smoke pierced by searchlights as if Martian war machines were searching for the power of Rock. We were delighted.
Time to play. I stomped on my magic guitar pedals, David did the count-in, we kicked off with something rocky. The sound was great. The lights were better. When I looked up from my guitar (something I couldn’t do too often due to my – ahem – limited playing ability) I saw a sea of bouncing people, strobe-lit by the sweeping spotlights. This could be the best gig ever, I thought.
Something whooshed behind me, making a noise.
I couldn’t turn around because I was trying not to screw up a guitar riff. The something whooshed again, this time in the other direction.
I managed to turn slightly, and saw a visibly terrified Chris looming out of the smoke like a runaway train, trying his damnedest to stay upright, looking for all the world like a movie monster on a skateboard. Music moves people, and it was moving Chris from left to right and back again at breakneck speed.
You’ve heard of the Duck Walk, Chuck Berry’s legendary guitar-playing strut? It turns out that Chris had accidentally invented his own version: the FuuuuuuuuuckWalk. He’d decided to move from his usual static position in order to rock out, but unfortunately the combination of virgin leather soles, a freshly waxed floor and the water spilling from the smoke machine turned him into a human toboggan. Shooting from side to side, swearing as he went, Chris was – yes! – on the Sole Train.
Chris’s shoes never appeared on stage again.