The history of a rock band
Truth is a fickle mistress. She clothes herself in ever-changing veils of illusion till you'd think she was in league with the Devil.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems impossible that we failed to see what was so obvious. No, strike that. I think we were having too much fun and didn't want to see. Or perhaps we were dazzled. Fame and fortune are the ultimate temptations.
When did it all really begin? Was it that night that we played at The Hanged Man, or when I first picked up a guitar back in the 'nineties? Who knows? Maybe the seeds of destruction were born in me? Original sins Greed. Pride. Lust... Okay, so not that original.
My parents were affluent bordering on filthy rich, and with social aspirations to match. Does that mean I was a spoilt rich brat? Fuck no. I was taught to appreciate the value of money by not actually having any. I was a younger son, and therefore not 'The Heir.' If I wanted to get my hands on a fortune, I'd have to earn it. Thus I was packed off to boarding school - Cheffingham.
This had two principal advantages; it would put me in the best possible position to make my way in life and keep me out of my mother's hair. There I met Pelham Healey-Swift (who hates being called Pelham) and we hit it off instantly - two square pegs against the rest.
We did well enough, in spite of ourselves, to become students at Newton College, London. It seemed a better option than getting a job. We only did enough work to avoid being thrown out and spent most of our time on our chief love - Heavy Rock!
I was experimenting with a variety of special effects pedals for my beloved Strat, while Pel was perfecting his drumming technique. The nearer we got towards the prospect of boring careers in dreary offices, the stronger grew the lure of the high life sex-an'-drugs-an'-rock-'n'-roll... Oh yeah, bring it on baby!
With the arrogance of youth, we knew we could make it into the big time. All we needed was a bass player-cum-vocalist with a talent to match our own, and nothing could stop us. Yes, we really were that cocky.
To this end, we placed an ad. in our student magazine along with our cell phone numbers. :
Three people rang.
I arranged 'auditions' at the flat I shared with Pel, or rather, at the lock-up garage down the road that went with the flat. First to arrive was Rupert Russell, a first year divinity student with terminal acne. My initial view was that, with or without the spots, a Christian rocker was not in the least bit compatible with the kind of band we had in mind. As a base-player, he was perfectly competent, but a glance at Pel confirmed that first opinion.
The second hopeful was post-grad. theoretical physicist, Toby Melville. He had the looks and a reasonable voice, but lacked commitment. Tinkering around with a guitar was just a way of staving off boredom when he wasn't working. As far as we were concerned it had to be all or nothing, so with Toby Melville, we settled for nothing.
The third candidate failed to show.
Much to my disgust, Pel was half inclined to throw in the towel there and then. Ever the fatalist, I said I was sure the right guy would show up when the time was right, which it was two weeks later.
Pel, brash and golden blonde, with a pair of innocent blue eyes that were completely wasted on a man, had met yet another girl. (On second thoughts, perhaps not completely wasted.) It didn't last, but while it did, she brought along her kid brother, a studious sixth-former.
Ian Chaplin had no wish to front a band, but was practically married to the magnificent Fender bass whose tone shivered right through to the core of your being - and could he ever play! Young as he was, he was in.
We decided to call ourselves 'Nightshade', and we threw ourselves into rehearsals with a will. Mostly we played 'Klassiks', - Led Zep., 'Purple, 'Sabbath, and the slightly more recent Metallica, Scorpions and Candlemass.
I took the role of vocalist, but reluctantly. It just didn't feel right. My voice isn't that bad, but it's much more in keeping with the chorister I used to be at Cheffingham than a heavy rock singer. It lacks the power and the gravelly tone of say a Robert Plant or an Ozzy Osbourne. It also interferes with my activities as lead guitar, but needs must when the devil drives, so they say.
Having developed a reasonably polished performance, we decided to give the band an airing, and played a couple of evenings in the Wallow - the bar of the Students' Union. The response was encouraging - nobody threw anything! I am being unnaturally modest here. We played up a storm!
It then occurred to us that perhaps we could try writing songs ourselves, more suited to my voice maybe. Together, we penned an eponymous 'Nightshade', Pel contributed 'Hunter's Moon' and 'Ghost Lover', and Ian tentatively offered 'Born to Sorrow' - rather like a schoolboy handing in his homework, not sure whether it would meet with teacher's approval. I thought it was brilliant.
The others thought my 'Walking on the Edge' was brilliant too. We (Pel and I) wondered, in an egotistical alcoholic haze, why we hadn't tried it before. These five, together with my 'Brandy of the Damned', written in the same alcoholic haze, formed the basis of our set, which we tried out at a couple of clubs and The Hanged Man public house.
Here it was that the whole thing moved up a gear, and into a completely new dimension. Here it was that Edan Lamfada walked into our lives, and things were never the same again...
As we were packing up our gear and feeling good after a successful gig, a dark stranger strolled over to us. He moved with the controlled energy of a tiger stalking its prey, unhurried yet unstoppable. He waited until all three of us had our eyes focussed on him.
What we saw was six feet two inches of sensual feline physicality. He was wearing unrelieved black leathers, kind of like a virgin biker who hasn't got around to stamping his personality on his gear yet. In spite of that, he was quite something. I'd never seriously questioned my sexuality before - I went to boarding school, okay; a little m/m goes with the territory - but that seductive look went straight to my groin.
It was difficult not to be impressed by his physical presence. His facial features were striking too. A pair of straight black eyebrows slanted upwards into a mane of unruly blue-black hair. In contrast, the mouth was angelically bowed and quivered into a smile as the deep-set eyes took in the attention of 'Nightshade'.
"Good... very good... I liked your act, but, excuse me, I think you could use a vocalist?"
The stranger raised one eyebrow. As we, mesmerized, said nothing, he gave a flourishing mock bow.
"Gentlemen, I humbly offer you my services."
Thus he spoke, but there was nothing remotely humble in his bearing.
Pel was the first to react, scowling at the stranger. "Thanks, but no thanks. We're doing fine as we are. We don't need any outsiders cashing in for a quick ego-trip."
I appreciated the vote of confidence.
"Perhaps, " purred the stranger. "But together, we'll go straight to the top, I promise you. Nothing will stand in our way. No more sleazy clubs and pubs... What have you got to lose...? What do you say?"
I had to smile at the big talk. Wasn't it exactly the way we talked ourselves? And, like I said, I wasn't happy as the front man. If this arrogant upstart could deliver the goods - and if appearances were anything to go by, he could - then we'd have to be fools to turn him down without a hearing.
"Why not? If you're as good as you make out, and if you fit in with us, we could use you. If not, then we'll say 'Goodbye' and no hard feelings. Okay?"
"Sounds fair enough. What do the rest of you say?"
Ian shrugged. "Okay by me."
Pel just shrugged.
"Right. Here's our address. Come on over about four thirty on Monday - unless you're working?" Somehow, I knew he wasn't even before he shook his head. "Any idea what you'd like to do? We've quite a wide repertoire of the best known rock songs."
"If you've got the numbers you did tonight written down somewhere, I'll learn them over the weekend. I'll see what I can find in the way of costumes, too, and we can discuss our image."
I swallowed. This was fast travelling. I didn't know whether to be impressed by the man's ideas and commitment or irritated by his assurance. And another thing, if this guy was so all-fired hot, how come he hadn't made it already? He looked to be at least five years older than Pel and me.
As if he had read my mind, he said, "Take heart, little friend. I've never met a band as good as you before."
I turned away and ferreted in my guitar case for the score of our songs. I know I'm good, and I don't keep quiet about it either, but somehow, I always feel awkward when someone else tells me I'm good. Furthermore, I'm nearly six foot myself...
I found the 'score' - three grubby, dog-eared sheets of A4 file-paper - and handed them over. The stranger folded them without looking at them and stashed them inside his jacket.
"May Eve," he said cryptically, then with a satisfied smile which took in all three of us, he turned on his heel and strode towards the door. It suddenly struck me that he had forgotten something.
"Oh, by the way," I began, "what's "
"Edan Lamfada," said the man in black. Again the extravagant bow, and he was gone.
What did you want to invite him round for?" Pel demanded, looking sullen.
"Well, like he said, we've nothing to lose and we could definitely use a good vocalist. Besides, if he can't deliver, we just tell him no."
"Huh. Think he'd take 'no' for an answer? He's practically taken us over already - and we don't know the first thing about him."
"Look, if he tries to run the show, we just tell him he's not right for 'Nightshade'. End of story. It'd not like we've got a contract or anything."
"Yeah, I suppose."
"And look at the style... If he takes us right to the top, you won't be complaining."
"There you go again, Alex. ' If he takes us to the top.' He's got you wrapped right round his little finger already. If I didn't know you better, I'd be thinking you fancied him."
I glared at Pel. "What?"
"Well, he does look a bit like Hazelwood," Pel muttered.
"Hey, I did what I had to," I snapped. "You know that. Besides, you've no room to talk."
"Fuck off, Alex!"
"Cool it, you guys."
Ian - or 'The Prof' as we'd nicknamed him - came between us before things got ugly.
I admit, it was a bit of a low blow. Luke Hazelwood was considerate and relatively undemanding - protective of the younger boys too; Mathers was an abusive bully. Pel has the scars to prove it.
"Yeah, well... We're doing all right by ourselves and I'd rather we did make it on our own," Pel said, still scowling at me.
"Look, there're too many 'ifs' and 'buts' to be getting in a steamy about it," the Prof. pointed out. "Let's wait till Monday, and we can discuss it then, preferably after D'Artagnan's gone."
We laughed. The only similarity between M. Lamfada and Dumas père's gauche hero was the chaos he left behind him. The comparison struck a chord, nevertheless, and we eventually left 'The Hanged Man' in perfect harmony - perfect harmony of spirit anyway.
That was Friday night. Saturday night saw us playing at a disco for the Students' Union, and Sunday saw very little of us at all.
Which brings us to Monday, 30th. April.
Ian came over straight from school. Sometimes I felt a bit guilty about dragging him away from his school work, what with 'A'-levels looming, and our musical alliance causing him some hassle at home.
I mean, it's one thing to risk throwing away my own chance of a 'respectable' career by chasing rainbows, and Pel's old enough to know what he's doing, too. It's quite another to be leading a youngster like Ian down the same primrose path. God! I sound just like his mother.
Well, I guess you get the picture. She wasn't any too happy about the state he'd gone home in on Sunday morning either. Still, there wasn't much she could do about it other than kick him out, and she's far too civilized to do that.
Pel said he'd wait at the flat for our candidate while Ian and I went off to the garage to tune up. I wasn't too sure about this, but Pel promised not to lose him on the way so we went.
At four thirty on the dot they arrived. Lamfada was wearing ripped pale blue denims and an old Led Zep. T-shirt. He'd put away his satirical look, and if he wasn't exactly persona grata, I could see that a thaw had set in.
We'd settled on "Hunter's Moon", "Born to Sorrow" and "Walking on the Edge" as a suitable audition. Pel reckoned that Lamfada would argue for a change, but no. He seemed to be on his best behaviour. The thaw continued. Then we let rip.
I didn't think he could do it - learn the songs, that is. The 'score' was sketchy to say the least. I was wrong, well wrong, and what a voice! - an amazing combination of power and sweetness. It was so exhilarating. By the end of the mini-set, we were all breathless, all except Lamfada, who should have been by rights. Pel was laughing.
With supreme tact, Lamfada said he would leave us in peace to reach our verdict, and even managed to resist his self-satisfied swagger as he left.
"What do you think?" I asked, looking particularly at Pel.
"Well, can't fault him on ability, that's for sure."
"And the rest?"
"I don't know. He was so different today. I've never met a guy so charming, and I don't mean creepy-charming either. When we were walking down here... well, it didn't seem like he was trying to sweet-talk me into changing my mind - we didn't talk about anything in particular - but he just seemed, I don't know, too good to be true somehow."
"How do you feel about it, Prof.?" I asked.
Ian's forehead was furrowed in thought. "You keep saying we're good enough to reach the top. I'd say with that voice we couldn't fail. However It's very surprising that he isn't up there already."
"He said he'd never found a band as good as ours before," I put in smugly.
"That could be true, of course," continued Prof., "or perhaps he has been with other bands and got under their skins like he did with Pel last Friday. He obviously has a big ego - like a couple of other people I know," - he grinned as he spoke - "but I don't find that so hard to live with, and you two have managed to not to kill each other for long enough. Pel said he'd dropped the power play today. Perhaps he's learnt from his past experiences and doesn't want to goof it up again. In that case, if he can be as pleasant as Pel says, and he can keep his ego down to reasonable levels, then he would be a definite asset."
"I take it that's a 'yes' then?" I asked.
"A qualified 'yes'," he agreed. "What I suggest is that we accept him 'on probation' as it were. That'll give him time to show his true colours and give us time to see if we like them."
"On probation? Yes, I like that," Pel responded. "How long do we give him? Five years?!"
"Be sensible, Pel. The Prof's quite right, and I think a month would probably do. Are we all agreed?"
We were. We strolled back to the flat and found Lamfada lounging against an ancient Jag. Old, it was. Decrepit it wasn't. It was certainly in keeping with the sense of style we'd come to expect of the guy.
He cocked his head to one side and raised an enquiring eyebrow. The expression managed to convey confidence, but not the previous irritating certainty. Perhaps it was a lesson for us, too. Perhaps we came across as equally irritating to lesser mortals. I don't think I could ever sink to false modesty, but maybe I could tone down the big talk a little bit - a very little bit.
We gave him our decision and he agreed it was good idea. It would also give him the option of backing out if he wasn't happy with our set-up, he said, but that statement didn't carry much conviction. It was clear that he wanted us, and that augured well for his making himself acceptable.
"Why don't you come up for coffee?" Might as well be friendly, I thought. I glanced at Pel. His expression was non-committal which I took as a positive sign. He wasn't looking daggers at me.
"Thanks. I'd like that. I think we ought to talk, too."
"About our image?" ground out Pel.
"If it's all right with you. I mean, I've no fault to find with your image, but as we're going to the top, we might as well look like the best band in the world too - don't you think?"
It was a very gentle criticism and one that, to be honest, was more than merited, but I could feel Pel's hackles rising again. We had reached our flat by then. It's the top floor of an old Edwardian house - the attics really - but it suits us.
It has two bedrooms under the gables at the front, and a bathroom, kitchenette and an all-purpose living room at the rear. As you might expect, it's a bit of a tip, but at least there wasn't any dirty underwear lying around the living room that day - not obviously anyway...
"I'll help you make the coffee, Pel," I said, pointedly, and pushed him towards the kitchen as he didn't seem to be taking the hint. I put the kettle on. "Now, look, Pel," I said, "he's quite right. We do need to look at our image. Sometimes I think we look like a bunch of layabouts, and when you come down to it, presentation's half the battle. We need to stand out from the crowd visually too."
He opened his mouth, but I rushed on. "And will you stop acting like a Rottie every time he says something. After all, if we're going to be a foursome, he has a right to some input in what we do. Okay, so he's a bit quick off the mark, but at least it doesn't look like he's only here for the ride. If his ideas are crap, then he'll be outvoted and there's nothing he can do about that. If they're good, then great. What does it matter whose brain they spring from? He's doing it for us as well as himself. 'One for all, and all for one.' "
"Oh no, not D'Artagnan again!" begged Pel, and we both laughed. He became serious then and said, "Actually, I was going to say that perhaps I was over-reacting slightly." He grinned. "I hope you fully appreciate this admission - which is not for publication. It really goes against the grain, y'know, to acknowledge any sort of imperfection."
"I know," I said, loading things on to a tray. "Now let's go in there and turn ourselves into a Supergroup!"
I carefully avoided leading the conversation round to our image, waiting to see who would broach the subject. Eventually I was rewarded when Pel grasped the nettle. Being Pel, he used the technique one uses with nettles, but then, subtlety never was his strong suit.
"What sort of a band do you want to turn us into then?" he asked abruptly when a hole appeared in the conversation.
I'd just taken a mouthful of coffee and nearly choked. The intervening fit broke the tension, however, and when normality (?) returned, Lamfada smoothed over the gaffe.
"I'd like to hear your ideas. Once we know which route we plan to take to the top, we can sort out the means." He looked directly at Pel.
Pel just loves being in the limelight, possibly because he doesn't see much of it, hidden away behind his drum kit, and he rose to the occasion.
"We're fairly heavy, and we'd like to keep it that way. I realize heavy bands in general don't often make it big, but some have made it into the Top Ten more than once, and a few have made it to Number One. I want to make the public accept us as we are, not come down to their level."
"You think there's no room for compromise, then?" Lamfada asked gently.
"Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. We'd be stupid to close every door except one. Besides, we do vary our material a fair bit. Grunge is okay, but it gets a bit boring after the first three or four numbers - not enough variety I suppose."
"I think you're right. Variety is the key. The really big names - the Beatles, Stones, Queen and so on - have all had their heavy side, but they're also melodic."
"Yeah... but we're not going too soft. We don't want anyone saying we've sold out."
"We could keep our subject matter 'hard'... " our visitor suggested.
"How d'you mean?"
"Well, you've got some very good songs already. Think of those; 'Ghost Lover' - that's death and sex - 'Brandy of the Damned' - speaks for itself! -'Nightshade' - that's poison... You take my point?"
Pel's eyes lit up. "Yes, and black magic and witchcraft and demons and that sort of thing!"
I was amused by Lamfada's delicate diplomacy. The nut seemed to be holding its own against the sledge-hammer.
"We could include those, too, yes. Probably a good idea. It'll stir up the moral minority and the Christian fundamentalists. There should be a fair amount of free publicity there for us." He gave a wicked little chuckle. "Watch the sex angle though. It wouldn't do to alienate half the record-buying public." Again the wicked chuckle.
"Perhaps we should change our name?" Pel speculated, " 'Black Magic' maybe?"
"Sounds too chocolate-boxy. Besides, what's wrong with 'Nightshade'?" I demanded. It had been my idea.
"I don't know," Pel replied, "it just doesn't sound exciting enough. We don't want to 'poison' our fans, either - put a spell on them, more like."
"I'm not sure 'Black Magic' is quite us, though," the Prof. put in.
"I think you're right," said Lamfada, agreeing yet again. " 'Black Magic' has been used before anyway, by a bunch of Canadian women. Not terribly successfully either, from what I hear. The 'Black' might give us more publicity than we really need, too, and makes a denial of the inevitable accusations of 'devil worship' a little difficult to sustain - not that I have anything against devil worshippers in principle," - chuckle - "but it's better not to put all our cards on the table at once. Rather, we should develop a little mystique I think."
"All right, what name have you got lined up for us?"
Pel was in with both feet yet again. Perhaps it had dawned on him that he was being gently manipulated. I thought about it and wondered if I'd been manipulated too. I didn't care for the idea, but had to acquit him on that one, as I couldn't pin anything down In the first case, the idea of changing our name had been entirely Pel's own.
My mind returned to the discussion. Lamfada seemed to have extricated himself from the potential confrontation, so then I wondered where the line fell between manipulation and diplomacy...
Several names had been put forward. In the end, we settled on 'Enchanter' as having the right combination of magic, mystery and attraction. Lamfada hadn't suggested it, but I suspected that he had pointed the way somehow.
To change the subject while concord remained - that in itself was an achievement - I asked Lamfada to tell us a bit about himself. He had quite an unusual name for a start.
"Yes, it's Celtic," he replied, "possibly Irish - I'm not sure really. Edan means 'fire', that I do know." His eyes lit up as he said it. I noticed they were green. "I spend most of my time abroad - I prefer the heat. I've only been over here a few weeks this trip, but don't worry, I'm planning on being around for quite a long time. No, I don't need a work permit, I'm not an illegal immigrant and I'm not short of cash at the moment either. Nor have I robbed a bank. Actually, I'm a gambler. Any chance of another mug of coffee?"
I stood up to do the honours.
"By the way, I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of sorting out a few clothes that might be suitable. While you make the coffee, I'll slip downstairs and fetch them. We can try them for size and see what you think. Um, could somebody give me a hand?"
The Prof. jumped to it like the good egg he is before Pel could say anything, and I headed for the kitchen. Pel followed, but not to help.
"There, I told you," he fumed, "he's taking us over. He had this all planned. The whole thing's changed. It's his show now, right down to the clothes we wear. Well, I'll be damned if I'll go along with it!"
"You'll go along with it," I said, "because we've given him a month. It would hardly be fair if we kicked him out in the first hour, now would it? Okay, so he's a fast worker. Is that so bad? I think it was very good of him to take the trouble to look out some gear - which we may actually like - especially in the face of your blatant antagonism. Now stop being so touchy, put your suspicions on hold for the next four weeks, and go and give the guy a hand. And smile!"
Pel gave me a black look, but set off downstairs. I finished making the coffee, thankful not to hear any further evidence of discord. I took the tray through and stopped dead in my tracks.
The whole room looked as if it had been turned into a jumble sale. No, that's not a true representation. The gear was strewn about like a jumble sale but it wasn't jumble sale quality.
"Where on earth did you get all that gear from?" I gasped.
"I - um - have a friend in town who's a theatrical costumier. If you see anything you like, we can either buy it or hire it. It shouldn't be too expensive - he owes me a favour. If you don't see anything you care for, there's plenty more Or you could design something yourself. No problem."
"Can't say he's pushing his ideas at you now," I muttered in Pel's ear. He frowned, but said nothing.
After coffee, we spent a wonderful hour trying on the clothes Edan had brought. Pel had got over the sulks and was trying on everything in sight in great good humour. Edan suggested that we choose a colour scheme so that we appeared as a united group rather than four unconnected individuals.
"I'm not suggesting a 'uniform' of any kind, but I feel that we'll present a more cohesive image if we all wear some item or other in the same colour."
"You mean like I wear a blue shirt, Alex wears blue trousers, the Prof. wears a blue waistcoat - and so on?"
Pel sounded almost enthusiastic. I was gratified.
"That's the idea," Edan concurred, "though we needn't all wear the same blue, so long as they don't clash." He looked Pel straight in the eye, then said, "Yes, I see why you chose blue."
Pel blushed like a girl, and I shot Edan a sharp look, but there was nothing ambiguous in his expression. He returned my look and grinned.
"We don't have to stick to blue all the time do we?" asked the Prof., who'd missed that brief interchange.
"Of course not. We don't want to be branded 'predictable', do we?" Edan responded. "We can start off with blue though. A magical midnight blue for me, I think - with silver spangles perhaps... What do you think?"
"You don't think silver spangles are a bit over the top?" I asked.
"No. A bit of glitter will do no harm at all. People expect a front man to be a bit over the top anyway. It's what they pay their money to see. I'll see what Valentine can find in his 'Christmas Collection'. Trust me."
In the end, Pel settled for a sky blue peasant shirt with full sleeves and tight black leather pants. The Prof., somewhat to my surprise, picked baggy Cossack trousers in a light Royal blue satiny material, a pale blue shirt in the same material and tied a white sash round his waist as a belt. The overall effect was knock-out though. He really looked like somebody - a star even.
I wondered what I looked like. I'd gone for a plain white shirt and trousers and a cropped bright blue waistcoat. Quite plain really, but it wouldn't do for all of us to go over the top. We decided to hire the gear initially and to launch the new-look 'Enchanter' at the Science Department's disco on Saturday.
We were booked in as 'Nightshade' but we figured they wouldn't mind the switch. Edan said he'd arrange a 'photo call' for us, just as if we'd made it already, and we really felt like we had. Pel didn't even appear to notice that he'd been pre-empted at arranging publicity.
We rehearsed on the Wednesday and Friday nights and the whole thing gelled very well. We were in the highest of spirits. Pel's animosity had vanished, whether temporarily or permanently I couldn't tell. I hoped for the latter but expected the former. Pel has a short fuse at times.
Edan called round on Saturday morning with the gear and announced that he'd arranged with a photographer friend to take some shots the following day for a publicity folio. Pel asked mildly who he'd got, Ross Halfin or Mick Rock? Edan just grinned and said we wouldn't be disappointed.
We didn't see him again until the evening when I discovered that Pel's bonhomie had only been temporary after all. For a start, Edan was late. Well, no, he wasn't exactly late. He just didn't show until seconds before we were due to start, and we were all having kittens thinking he'd left us in the lurch. Pel was spitting bullets and building up a real head of steam.
Then Lamfada appeared, and Pel didn't say any of the things he was going to say. We just stared, all three of us, with eyes standing out like the proverbial organ stops. Was he ever over the top! Right over the top and down the other side!
He was wearing the promised midnight blue and silver spangles all right, but that doesn't even begin to tell the half of it. He's a tall guy anyway and he had a wide brimmed magician's hat sitting on his raven locks which must have taken him over seven foot. Then there was the cloak.
The padded shoulders made him look about as wide as a barn door, and there was enough material gathered into it to curtain a house. It was like Ozzy, Gary Glitter and Freddie Mercury all rolled into one.
He was even carrying a wizard's staff with a skull on the top, and what he was wearing under that cloak I shuddered to think. I resolved to keep my eyes away from him. It could seriously put me off my playing.
"Well, come along children," he breezed, "our public awaits."
"You're not seriously going on like that?" I was aghast.
" 'Trust me,' he says," muttered Pel, dangerously quiet, " 'Christmas Collection,' he says. Fell off a Christmas tree more like! Well, it's you they'll be throwing things at, pal."
I've never seen Pel so furious before. Things could have been worse though. It could have been the Engineering Department...
"No time for a tête-à-tête now, darlings, we're on. Let's slay 'em!"
Slay 'em, we did. As the curtains drew back and the spotlight hit Lamfada, the hall fell silent. They were as dumb-struck as we were. Then he let fly with a thunder-flash that startled us as much as the watchers.
It stung us into action however and we tore into "Brandy of the Damned" with far more venom than we'd ever done before. Everything Pel wanted to do to Lamfada and couldn't, he took out on his drum kit. It had never taken such a pounding, and his solo drew a spontaneous round of applause and cheering.
That raised my own game. I don't think I'd ever played better and the response was intoxicating. Edan had shed the enormous cloak after the first number. Under it he was wearing Spandex would you believe? Passé? Not on Edan Lamfada. Midnight blue pants with wavy silvery-white stripes, topped by a matching midnight blue waistcoat - with spangles - and a silky white peasant shirt like Pel's.
I hadn't fully noticed before but he had a terrific physique - muscular without being muscle-bound. And very well endowed. 'Hm, maybe it wasn't just a teenage 'phase' Maybe I am gay," I thought. "Or bi- That's fashionable these days.'
We launched into our final number, "Walking on the Edge". Edan had been giving it all he'd got before, but he seemed to find another gear from somewhere and really gave it some wellie. He finished as he'd begun, with a thunder-flash.
It was a magnificent show! The cheers brought us back for an encore - and nobody threw anything. We left the stage in a state of euphoria and went into what served as a green room to change.
"That was a dirty rotten trick to pull," Pel stormed at Edan, brandishing a fist, but he was grinning from ear to ear.
Edan raised a hand. "Pax," he said with a disarming smile, "Sorry, guys. Didn't mean to leave it quite so late and ," he continued with a guilty grin, "I've done something else you probably won't approve of. I've been recording our show tonight. That's why I was late - setting it up. I want to get us some time in a proper recording studio, and we need something to show off our potential."
"Ah," said Pel. Nothing more.
He had plenty to say later on as we were leaving, and the talk turned to where we should go for a celebratory drink.
"I'm afraid we sha'n't have time for that," came the voice of doom. "We'll have to be up fairly early tomorrow."
Pel stopped dead.
"What?" he said.
"Have you forgotten our photo call?"
"Thankfully, yes." Sometimes Pel is anything but helpful.
"I don't see why we need to be up early. Sunday's our day for lying in," I pointed out.
Then I found that Lamfada had a temper too. He whirled round and grabbed me by the shoulders.
"When are you going to learn that success isn't going to drop into your lap like a ripe apple. It doesn't matter how good you are, you've still got to earn it - and you're not going to earn it lying in bed, are you!"
He let go - which was a relief because he had a vicious grip - and addressed us all.
"I am coming round at four thirty tomorrow morning, and I want you three bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and in your gear, ready for the off. We will then pick up David Latimer, photographer, who has very kindly agreed to forego his usual Sunday morning lie-in, and drive to the Embankment. There, David will take some 'atmospheric' shots of us at dawn by the Thames. We will then drive to Rochester, where David will take some more photographs of us with some real 'hard rock' at the castle. After that, I will drive you home and the rest of the day will be yours to waste in whatever manner you think fit."
"And suppose we don't want to do what you tell us to?" Bigmouth strikes again, and I'll bet it sounded pretty petty even to his own ears.
"If," countered Edan in measured tones, "tonight has meant nothing to you and you would really rather sleep off a raging hangover in your cosy little bed than get off your butt and do something constructive, then I will walk out of your lives forever and you can swim around in your own little piss-pond and please yourselves."
Then he turned on his heel and stalked off into the night.
We were all ready for him when he came next morning and we were all smiling, even if it was a little forced. Pel's grin looked as if rigor mortis had set in, but at least he was making the effort. We all apologized, including Lamfada, and the tension eased.
Actually, it was quite a pleasant day. David was a middle-aged hippy type, a real camera enthusiast but very easy to get on with nevertheless. "I find I take better photographs if my subjects are relaxed."
The dawn was brilliant. If that sounds like I'm overdoing it, it's probably because I don't see it all that often, and when I do, it's usually raining and I'm on the way to the bathroom to throw up. Hence, I've never really seen it at its best. That day, it was clear and cool and beautiful, and so was my head - well , clear and cool anyway, which is quite a novelty at that time on a Sunday morning.
Rochester was interesting, too. David took a lot of shots in and around the castle and a few in the town. That took us nearly to midday when we suddenly realized we were starving. There was an attractive little pizzeria in the High Street, but unfortunately it didn't open on Sundays. Edan cursed it roundly. However, David knew of a delightful little French restaurant in Greenwich with no hang-ups about opening on the Sabbath so we went there instead.
Over lunch Lamfada suggested mildly, "If you have nothing special planned for this afternoon, it might be a good idea to bend your minds to writing a few more songs."
"Why?" I asked without thinking.
"Because we're going to need more than six for an album," he replied patiently, "and we don't want to be caught out with just those six when a recording contract comes along. Perhaps you can produce another half dozen works of genius in half an hour, I don't know. Some people produce their best work under pressure but I suspect it would be better to have a little more time to think about it. We don't really want our songs to sound as if they've been thrown together at the last minute. We could do some cover versions I suppose, though I think it would be better to do our own thing. What do you think?"
"How about you?" asked the Prof. "Are you going to add any songs to the collection?"
"I will see what I can do, if that would meet with your approval?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake, stop pussyfooting around Pel!" I protested. " This band isn't going to revolve around you, and it certainly doesn't revolve around Pel either. There are four of us now, remember. We should all have equal commitment, and an equal say in what we do."
"Fair enough," Edan agreed.
"Things aren't quite so simple now there are four of us," the Prof. pointed out. "What happens when there's no majority decision? And does any individual member have the right of veto?"
It was a good point, and one which probably affected him more than Pel and me. He hadn't been with us long and wasn't the demonstrative type - which was probably why he'd fitted in so well - but whenever Pel and I couldn't agree on something, he'd had the final say. Although he'd only turned eighteen a few weeks earlier, he had quite an old head on his shoulders. He didn't say much but what he did say was usually worth listening to. I considered this together with what he'd said.
"That's a good point, Prof." I turned to the others. "I'm inclined to think it would be a good idea to give Prof. the casting vote. Okay, so he's the youngest, but he's more detached than we are - I don't mean he's less committed. It's more that we're too subjective at times. We need a cool head making the final decision."
"And to curb our more extreme flights of fancy," remarked Pel, looking at Lamfada.
"Cruel, Pel," his victim protested. "It worked didn't it?"
"Perhaps it did. Perhaps it didn't make any difference. Perhaps it would've worked even better if you'd dressed a little more conservatively... "
The Prof. flexed his new muscles. "I think it made all the difference. In the past, we got half way through the first number before we had everyone's attention. Edan had one hundred per cent attention before he even started. Yes, and the way he got your temper going, Pel, really boosted to your performance."
Pel showed signs of affront. Lamfada gave the Prof. an appraising look, as if he hadn't really noticed him before.
"You could be right, Alex," he said thoughtfully.
So the Prof. became our honorary chairman.
Monday, May 7th., was May Day - naturally. The following day, we were hailed as stars by those of our fellow students who had been at the launch of 'Enchanter.' Well, we were on the receiving end of a lot of compliments anyway which was very nice.
Much to Pel's disgust, several girls wanted to know who our divine new singer was but we had a few admirers ourselves - girls who had obviously seen us through a different pair of eyes that night from the ones they used in lectures. During the day, I suppose we looked pretty much like any other students, in jeans and Ts.
Edan reappeared on Wednesday evening with the proofs from David. He was right. We weren't disappointed. Even Pel admitted it had been worth giving up our usual weekend pleasures. The hard part was picking out the best photos for our folio. It was a delightful chore, though.
The Prof. suggested we should each contribute a potted autobiography - nothing too much, say half a dozen lines. We did it over coffee. It was quite a giggle as Pel and I contributed unflattering reminiscences to each other's tales.
Those were not intended for publication but Edan thought it might be profitable to include a couple of the funnier ones, like the time Pel nearly got expelled for hanging a pair of lacy knickers on the founder's statue in the forecourt of our school. He'd wriggled out of it by saying he'd borrowed his sister's knickers and done it as a harmless prank. Had the school authorities enquired further, they would have discovered that his sister was, at that time, a skinny nine-year-old.
To this day, Pel hasn't a clue whose knickers they were or how he got hold of them. The rumour that went round school was that they belonged to the head of the maths department, a pompous fellow at the best of times. It could explain how Pel got away with it... Naturally, we didn't tell the whole story. Libel actions may be great publicity but they can be costly!
That done to our satisfaction, Edan produced three sheets of note paper. "I had a bash at song-writing. See what you think."
There was one song on each so we passed them round. They looked quite promising. Thankfully, we'd followed Edan's suggestion and so we'd produced another song each. That made twelve - enough for an album - but Edan, the slave-driver, said it wasn't good enough. He wanted at least twice as many so we could pick the very best. We groaned. This was like being back at school again.
Edan said we couldn't very well enjoy the fruits of our efforts if we weren't prepared to put in the effort first. I could see Pel thinking it would be an Edan Lamfada album so to stop him going for the jugular, I suggested we go down to the garage and give the new songs a try-out Just to get the feel of them. The Prof. hastily agreed and another nasty moment was staved off, at least for the time being.
We tried Lamfada's songs first as we all wanted to know what sort of style he affected musically. The first one we tried was 'Dance with the Devil', which appeared to be a black reworking of the traditional 'Lord of the Dance'. It wasn't brilliant, but it was chirpy and cheeky and we liked it. "I'll Put a Spell on You", while not heavy enough for Pel's taste, was wonderfully seductive and provided an excellent contrast to 'Blazing Hearts', which had tremendous potential for a speed solo from me.
Pel was keen to try out his latest creation, 'Merry Hell', which was as wild and fiery as himself and included a crackling drum solo - no compromise! The Prof. had written 'Magic in the Air', which was classy, and my contribution was 'Flight of the Phoenix' which I wasn't too happy with.
Pel said if I tinkered about with the middle eight it would be fine. I thought he was just showing solidarity with an old mate but the others agreed with him so I decided to give it another go later on. We spent another couple of hours knocking the rest of the new songs into a reasonable shape for rehearsal, and that was the end of Wednesday.
The rest of the week and the whole of the following week, after exams for us and school for the Prof., we spent rehearsing the additions to our repertoire. I rejigged 'Flight of the Phoenix' and we included that too. It was a hard slog but Lamfada was adamant that we should aim as near to perfection as was humanly possible. We said he was in-human.
On the Friday night of that second week, as we broke out the cans halfway through the rehearsal, Edan said, "We'd better pick five or six numbers and concentrate on them for the rest of the evening. We'll have to get an early night, too."
I felt the sword of Damocles hovering overhead again, as Pel said, ve-ry quietly, "Why?"
"Because this weekend, we are going to make a demo CD."
"I have got us some time at a little studio out of town, cheap. We've only got this weekend and next so it'll have to be a fairly concentrated effort if we're to get it recorded and mixed in the time. We could get some more time, but we'd probably have to pay the full rate. Friendship only stretches so far."
We were flabbergasted. For once Pel, normally pretty inflammable when hit by one of Lamfada's faits accomplis, forbore to criticize. The dream flowed on. 'Enchanter?' Lamfada seemed like a veritable magician the way he managed to arrange things. He must've really put in a lot of spade work.
"My intention is to record four tracks if we can manage it in the time, to show off our variety. I suggest we do 'Magic in the Air', 'Hunter's Moon', 'Walking on the Edge' and 'I'll Put a Spell on You'."
As he'd put forward the best songs we'd each written, there wasn't much scope for discussion. Pel tried to argue for "Merry Hell" in Place of "Hunter's Moon", but this was sheer bloody-mindedness on his part, and as it got short shrift from the rest of us, he soon subsided into a fit of the sulks. This isn't much better than a state of open warfare but it is a slight improvement.
"There are other things we shall need to consider in the very near future, like a logo, album cover design, fan club and so on. I think we ought to find a manager, too. I can do a fair amount in that direction at the moment, not being tied up in any 'gainful employment', but once things really take off we shall need to be able to give all our efforts to the creative and performing side of the business. Perhaps Pel might like to look around for a suitable manager? One who won't rip us off for preference."
As it happened, Pel definitely wouldn't like to go scouting round for a reliable manager with modest remunerative requirements and found himself backed into a corner. It cost him an effort but he magnanimously admitted that Lamfada would probably have more success in that direction than he would and snapped out of the sulks pretty sharpish in case Edan dropped any more unwelcome tasks on him.
He did own to having a cousin who was a graphic artist, however, and tentatively volunteered to sound him out regarding the artwork - if Edan didn't mind...
Revitalized by the tinnies, we blasted through our showcase numbers. They really sounded polished and professional by now, and we hadn't drunk enough to distort our perception significantly in this respect. We packed in early and headed for bed. Amazingly, we slept well.
Edan was round at a disgustingly early hour for a Saturday morning - or any morning, really - and invited himself for breakfast on the grounds that we had quite a long drive ahead and he'd be doing the driving. We loaded all our gear into the back of the battered old van that usually lived out in the street. With Pel's drum kit in the garage, there was no room for the van.
We collected the Prof. and set off for the studio. We arrived before eight o'clock and Edan, who had the key, let us in.
We spent quite a while investigating and familiarizing ourselves with all the equipment. Edan seemed fairly well acquainted with it already and it turned out that he had made several visits there previously.
He explained that this was so we could get settled in without having strange sound techies wandering round and distracting us. Later on, in the evening, Greg Douglas would stop by to meet us all. Greg was going to do the mixing for us.
The first part of the morning was, predictably, fairly scrappy but Edan laid off the hassling. We were doing our best on an entirely new scene and it takes a while to settle in.
We had a short break for coffee during which nobody spoke which was something of a novelty, then we seemed to get our second wind and things went sufficiently well that we didn't even think of lunch till nearly two o'clock.
I had visions of a lengthy and relaxed lunch at some local hostelry but no such luck! Edan disappeared for a short while and returned with a hamper. It may not have been from Fortnum and Mason but it was pretty good nevertheless, and came with a bottle of wine in a cool box. I don't mind wine myself. It's something I could easily get used to.
Pel, the unpolished, just said, "Wot no beer?" and got an icy look for his pains.
"I am aware," said Lamfada in chilly tones, "that the image of a heavy band demands the swilling of beer in vast quantities down the gullet and the concomitant swelling of the gut. I am hoping, however, that our image will be a trifle higher than the drunken vomit-soaked sot in the gutter. With that in mind, I brought the wine to get us used to a slightly more civilized way of getting pissed, not that we have time to do that today. If you really can't stomach the idea of wine, though, you'll find some cola at the bottom of the basket."
"Yuck!" was Pel's reaction, and he reached for a wine glass.
He took a tentative sip with a pained expression, then smiled and knocked it back in one. The pained expression transferred itself to Edan's face. Pel had the grace to look slightly abashed and took a second glass at a more sedate pace.
The afternoon session lasted, with a short break, until half past seven when Lamfada let us out for some pub grub with a warning to be back inside an hour. Pel grumbled of course - so what's new? It was a bit like being allowed out of school though. Lamfada said that as he had things to do in the studio and there were a few things left from lunch he wouldn't join us this time.
The nearest pub, the Green Man, was about five minutes walk away. It was a bit seedy - definitely down-market - but food was available so, as time was limited, we decided to stay - by a majority verdict
The Prof. and I set off back to the studio at twenty past eight. Pel, who had just started another pint, said he would join us when he'd finished it.
We arrived at the same time as Greg Douglas, a cheerful Scot of indeterminate age. He wasn't in the least intimidating and quite understood our lack of experience in his field. I felt he was someone we could work with. He listened with an attentive ear to the stuff we had put down during the day.
"Good," he nodded, "excellent in fact. We don't often hear that sort of quality round here. Are there just the three of you?"
It was gone nine by now and Pel still hadn't appeared. I looked guiltily at Edan.
"Don't worry. You're not his keeper," he responded with a tight little smile. "Give him enough rope... "
Greg stayed for another hour, tinkering around with our work. It was very interesting listening to it taking shape. He was very knowledgeable and his suggestions helped enormously. I wished Pel were there, too, but he still hadn't showed up. It really was too bad of him, and all to spite Edan if the truth be known.
After Greg had gone, I volunteered to collect Pel. Man, was he going to get an earful! Edan said Okay, he would pack things up in the studio. We could leave our gear overnight, but there were still a few things to do before we went home. The Prof. tactfully stayed behind on the spurious pretext of helping to pack up, not that there was much he could do.
I found Pel in a belligerent mood. Heaven knows how much he'd drunk. There were at least a dozen empty glasses on the table. They couldn't all be his of course, but there was no way of telling how many were. He likes his beer though he's reasonably moderate - usually. Generally, alcohol makes him overpoweringly jolly. He'd gone a stage further that night...
"What the hell do you think you're playing at, Pel?" I demanded. "You'd better finish that right now. We're going home."
"Oh yeah? Has teacher sent his favourite fart to drag me out by the ear?" he sneered.
"Don't tempt me," I snapped. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Nope, and I don't fuckin' care. You afraid I'll turn into a fuckin' pumpkin?"
"I think you already have."
"Well go and tell Lam-far-da I'll come ro-ollin' home on my own then. I don't fuckin' answer to nobody."
I grabbed him by the arm and tried to haul him to his feet. He was a dead weight.
"Leave the li'l fucker be!"
Pel isn't short of stature, but no doubt he looked small to the guy who spoke. He looked somewhat like a clone of the Incredible Hulk but with a beer belly and minus the green paint.
"My friend is needed urgently elsewhere," I said as pleasantly as I could. "Perhaps you could assist him to his feet?"
"Here I am, and here I'll stay - friend."
"You 'eard what 'e said? Now sling yer 'ook!"
The fellow towered over me very menacingly. I backed off. I mean, I'm no coward, but several others were gathering behind Pel's self-appointed protector, and I couldn't afford a damaged hand if it came to a fight - and it looked like it well could. Ten o'clock on a Saturday night is not the ideal time to find men in a rational frame of mind, least of all in a pub.
"You'll pay for this, Pel," I promised, but I didn't realize how soon. I left to report back to the others, mocking laughter echoing in my ears.
"I see," Lamfada said grimly. "Leave this to me."
It should have sounded melodramatic, but strangely, it didn't. He strode off to the Green Man, with the Prof. and me almost running to keep up. He barged through the doors like the gunslinger heading for the show-down.
"On your feet, Pelham." He spoke quietly, yet his voice seemed to carry into every corner.
There was a hush. He and Pel eyed each other with overt hostility. 'The Hulk' lounged over to his protégé.
"He ain't leavin', pal," he growled.
"He's leaving," Edan stated flatly. "Now."
"Who's going to make me?" Pel asked in the same sneering voice.
"I am. If necessary."
"Fuck off, Lamfada."
That settled it. Edan made a grab for Pel at the same time as Hulk made a grab for Edan. It was just a feint on Edan's part. He ducked under Hulk's arm. A back elbow hit Hulk solidly in his immense gut. Naturally, he rode this well. Looked a little surprised though.
This acted as the signal for general mayhem. All hell broke loose. The Prof. and I just stood in the doorway and boggled. I was certain Edan was going to get killed.
Someone threw a punch. Edan ducked again. Hulk got it in the gut. Again. He wasn't one to stand such an indignity and the attacker bit the dust.
A glass shattered. Its bearer shoved it towards Edan's handsome face. I winced, but he blocked the attack with his left arm. A right upper-cut and his assailant went flying backwards into the crowd.
By now, everyone seemed to be finding old scores to settle with his neighbour. Mine host made a half-hearted appeal for calm, then reached for the 'phone.
The Prof. and I exchanged glances and nodded. We got down on all fours and crawled over to where Pel, so far untouched, sat watching the activity with a bemused eye. There was no point in trying to talk to him. I doubt if he'd have heard over the racket anyway.
We grabbed a leg each, yanked him on to the floor. Running at a crouch, we dragged him to the door.
Edan was ramming someone's head into Hulk's gut, which seemed to be yielding to the repeated assaults, and gave the thumbs-up. One last thunk and he snaked towards us.
A flying bar stool narrowly missed him. It caught Hulk neatly under the ear. My last vision as we retreated into the fresh air was of the mammoth slowly succumbing to the lure of gravity. It wasn't his night.
We yanked Pel none too gently to his feet.
"Spoil-sport," he muttered sulkily and barfed into the gutter.
"I'll talk to you later," Lamfada informed him. "Right now, we'd better put some distance between us and here." So saying, he hustled Pel down the road to the studio, and round the back to the little car park where we'd left the van. Pel threw up again.
"You really are the complete idiot," Lamfada told him in disgust. "Independence is all well and good so long as it doesn't inconvenience the rest of the team. Then it becomes pure selfishness. I can't believe I'm saying this! You object to being treated like a naughty schoolboy that can't be trusted, and then you behave precisely like one. Do you realize Alex could have ended up with a broken hand tonight - the Prof. too - and I came very close to being glassed? You could have ended our careers right there. And all because you couldn't fuckin' do as you were told!"
"You've no right to talk to me like this." Pel was just blustering. I could tell he was aware that he was completely in the wrong, but he would continue to brazen it out. He would die rather than admit to error now.
Lamfada gave him one blazing look, then struck him full in the face with the back of his hand. Pel collapsed to his knees, drunkenly sobbing. In the distance, a police siren wailed.
We drove home in silence. Lamfada told the Prof. he'd pick him up at six thirty in the morning again. Nobody argued.
He dropped us off without saying a word and drove on into the darkness. It was beginning to rain. We went slowly up to the flat. I have never seen Pel so totally subdued. I didn't say anything. There didn't seem to be anything left to say.
Part 3 added 29 SEPT 2007
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