Monday, 30 July 2018

ONE NIGHT IN ST ALBANS


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They haven’t performed for a few weeks.  Planned holidays have been taken, so it is perhaps good to be back together and ready to play.

We leave London in two cars, around 5.00 pm for a soundcheck at 6.00.  Keys have been accidentally locked into the boot.  The culprit – usually the band’s rock-steady Sergeant-Major – blames jetlag.  His girlfriend lives in San Francisco.  So rock and roll. 

It isn’t a major hold up.  The M1 is relatively clear, then we crawl into St Albans, to a pub called The Horn, on Alma Road.  The headline band – a local outfit - soundchecks (they’ve come in an aunt’s large-booted Mercedes).  Then the boys. 

I’m wandering around St Albans thinking about food and drink.  Finally I settle on a £3 Tesco meal deal.  I’ve had a tooth filled in the morning, so I want something not too challenging.  Ham and mustard, packet of ready salted and a peach tea. Kit Kat for pudding.  I eat it sitting on a rather grand bench commemorating the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

I suppose I should have visited the cathedral, but I’ve been before.  I head back to The Horn, keep away from the band meeting going on at one table, and apply myself to a regular Coke (bottled) and Sudoku.  Behind me, in the rear of the building, support bands play, obviously local, with their young mates claquing like billy-o.  Nothing that sounds unusual.  Desultory drumming and a bit of screaming.

So then the time comes.  I move next door. I’m not paying £7.00 and nobody seems to want to ask me to (the invisibility of age), so I stand with a pint of water at the back of the black room and watch the boys set up.  A family friend shows.  I chat with her. She has brought her mum, who sometimes comes to see covers bands. The room has emptied until finally there is a small core of four or five people, friends of our guitarist.  It isn’t unusual to play to nobody, or at least very few.  My son, the singer, rather enjoys these out of town shows where nobody knows who you are.

They open with a song, their new single.  My son is clearly prepared to enjoy himself and give it all tonight.  He pirouettes and bends and shimmers, a kind of angry wraith.  He wears the red trousers of one his mother’s suits and one of her black silk shirts. Between numbers he raises his chin and pushes back his hair, or takes on water, turns his back on the crowd.  The room gradually fills, not to bursting, but to a degree to which it can be a manipulated thing, and my son begins to work on his audience, eyeballing, and pointing, and drawing in.  His energy is directed towards persuasion; this is theatre.  But it isn’t pretend.  He leaves himself, everything, on the stage, seeming to turn himself inside out.  Sweat and eyeliner make a mess of his face.  The band, tight as a drumskin, likewise tear into their beautifully constructed songs, big songs, songs too big for this small dark backroom of a pub, but this is what they must settle for, for the moment.  Their time will surely come.  Wembley will have to wait.

They finish, as always, on an old, dark song from their earlier manifestation, a song in a minor key, but with enormous swaying power, that addresses some of the difficulty of adolescence. ‘Know’ it is called and it explodes into a storm of motion and guitar crashing at its end, the band moving as one animal.  It ends neither in a whimper not a bang, but in white sound, as the players leave the stage.

Afterwards, the dervish is put away and my son converses happily, sane as you like.  It is hard to become a rock star, especially in an age when the rock star has been proclaimed dead.  So perhaps my son’s attempt will end in a magnificent failure.  I hope not because as much energy and commitment has been poured into his making of music as is put in by determined apprentice footballers or young philosophers.  My pride is unshakeable.  I remain almost disbelieving that a son of mine can do this stuff.  I have other sons who also do other unbelievable things, but tonight this is my rock star son’s night, and my cup runneth over.

We roll into our beds around 3.00 am.  Rock and roll.

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