There was only one other customer in Proctor’s, leaning against the bar and toying with the remains of a pint. His hair was a feather cut left long at the back. He was wearing a black T-shirt, and had black combat trousers tucked into little furry boots. He had said to Sammy on the phone, ‘You can’t miss me. I look like Bono.’
Sammy tapped him on the elbow. ‘You Percival?’ he said.
‘Yeah…Sammy, right? Fancy a drink?’
The boy was making an early impression on the judges.
‘Aye, ta. Pint ae Special.’ He looked over at Baz and Mich, who had just sat down at the table in the bay window. ‘An’ two pints ae Fosters.’ He noted that the round was ordered without so much as a huff or puff. The boy was obviously flush. That would be a new departure for the band, having someone in the immediate circle that they could bum off.
‘So is this where you usually meet before practices?’ Percival asked.
Aye, thought Sammy. Every lunchtime.
‘Ye could say that, aye - ah, this must be mine.’
The barman laid a pint of special and a pint of Fosters on the towel. Sammy carried them over to the table.
‘That’s Percival gettin’ a round in,’ he said.
Baz made a grab for the lager, which had been meant for Mich. ‘Ask um if ae’s Spitfire’s ootside,’ he said.
Right enough, thought Sammy. The boy’s boots were a riot.
All eyes were on Percival as he approached the table with the remaining beers. Before anyone had the chance to make introductions, he was offering to put money in the juke box. ‘Sounds?’ He nodded to himself. ‘Yeah.’ He loped over to the box on the wall and studied the racks before inserting a pound coin. And then another.
‘Well?’ said Sammy.
Mich smiled into her pint; Baz was patting his jacket pockets.
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll!’ shouted Percival, strumming furious air guitar to the opening of Queen’s ‘One Vision’. This was unfortunate, for two reasons; firstly, there is no guitar during the opening of ‘One Vision’, and, secondly, Drive! were not a band who liked Queen. He pogoed over to the table.
‘Is that a bottle ae black nail varnish in yer pocket,’ said Baz, ‘or are ye jist glad tae see me?’
Percival looked down at his combat trousers. He was still gripping his invisible axe. ‘No, man, just the keys to the flat, y’know?’
‘Aye, so,’ said Sammy. ‘Everybody meet Percival…’
‘Perce,’ Percival corrected him.
‘Right. Perse.’ The way he had pronounced it in his Edinburgh private school accent had made it sound like an Englishman saying ‘purse’. Things were definitely looking up. ‘Perse, this is Baz, and Mich.’
‘So, Perse,’ said Sammy. ‘How much experience ye got in bands?’
He was still laying riffs. He was impressing no one, Sammy knew, especially Baz, who had been known to stop mid-song if he spotted folk doing air-guitar near him. He hammered-on up the imaginary fretboard and shook his head to get the imaginary hair out of his eyes. ‘Yeah, mostly round the universities, y’know?’
‘How old are you?’ asked Mich.
‘N-n-n-n-nineteen,’ he laughed. ‘I look older though, eh?’
They sipped their beer.
Percival was not what they were looking for. He would not go down well with the punters at the Kaptain’s Kabin. Too young and cocky by half. Then again, you could never tell. Even Bear had been accepted after a while.
‘So, we going to go to your practice room for a jam or what?’ he said. He was keen. ‘Hang on,’ he said, and held his guitar ready. ‘This is the best bit.’
Drive! sat in silence as Percival did his Brian May impersonation to the middle eight of the song. It certainly was a twiddly bit of fingerwork.
Mich looked at Sammy and shook her head slowly.
Baz had his eyes closed, as if he was concentrating. ‘Ye’ve no got a fag on ye, huv ye, Perce?’ he said, when the boy finished the lick.
Sammy had been waiting for it.
‘Nah, don’t smoke, man,’ said Percival. ‘But, er…’ He shoved his hand into his side pocket, and threw a five pound note across the table. ‘I think they do fags up at the bar.’
Baz studied the wrinkled piece of paper, then, rising from his seat, picked it up. ‘Yes, Percival,’ he said, crossing the empty floor to the counter. ‘They certainly do.’
Back at the flat, they ran through a couple of new numbers they had been working on, Percival sitting on a pouffe in the corner listening to what was what. Sammy noticed that he was paying particular attention to the drumming, as well as Mich’s bass lines, tapping them out with his wee boots. A good sign, he obviously had a bit of co-ordination about him.
‘Jist join in whenever ye feel like it,’ Sammy told him. ‘The mike’s sittin’ oan top ae Baz’s amp.’
Percival picked up the mike and immediately started looking awkward, like he’d never seen one before.
‘When ye’re ready, Perce.’
‘Yeah. Er, where will I plug this in?’
It was a good question. There was no PA for the singer; they used Baz’s amp for the vocals during practices. Even the most basic Public Address system would have been too powerful. They couldn’t have afforded one, anyway. The vocalist would get plugged into the real McCoy at the Kaptain’s Kabin. Even so, it was a pretty standard setup for band practices – for any band.
Baz had just lit a cigarette. ‘Ye can use ma amp,’ he said, after a pause.
‘Yeah…er…sure,’ said Percival. ‘Where does the jack go?’ He was studying the front panel of the amplifier. There were two holes in this panel. In one of the holes was the jack for Baz’s guitar. The other hole was empty.
‘Eh, Perce,’ said Sammy. ‘How long did ye say ye’ve been singin’ in bands?’
‘Me? Singing?’ he laughed. ‘Nah, I’m a drummer, me.’
Sammy burped slightly, and a stale taste of Bell’s whisky filled the back of his throat. Baz had invested the change from the fiver in a round of shorts.
‘FFFWWHHHH...FFFWWHHHH...ONE…TWO…TESTING ONE…TWO…BBBREAD, BBBUTTER, TTTEA, TTTOAST. YEAH SEEMS TO BE WORKING.’ Percival wasn’t a singer, but he’d been to plenty of sound checks.
‘If ye jist want tae turn it doon a peep,’ said Sammy.
The room was filled with a shrill, ear piercing whistle.
‘Stand behind the amp!’ shouted Mich, her hands over her ears.
‘Er, yeah, feedback. Right.’
Sammy turned to Baz. ‘You dae it when we start,’ he said.
Baz jammed the fag into the end of his guitar and started the riff to another of the new songs, provisionally entitled ‘Chick-a-lick-a’. Just as Sammy and Mich were about to come in, Percival waved a hand. The guitar ground to a halt. ‘Look,’ he said ‘Can we try something I can actually join in on?’
The three looked at each other.
‘Do you know any Queen? Bohemian Rhapsody - I know that one.’
‘We’re no a four part harmony band,’ said Baz. ‘An’ besides, the piano’s away gettin’ tuned.’
‘Aw, right. Well what about Lloyd Cole and the Commotions? Do you know ‘Perfect Skin’? He sang the hook line. It reminded Sammy of the Pub Singer on the Steve Wright Show. A fucking good impression of Lloyd Cole, in other words.
‘Nah, don’t know that one, either,’ said Baz.
Mich was shaking, trying to suppress the laughter.
‘Joy Div?’ said Percival.
They cranked up the drums and guitar.
‘Mind an’ play it in E!’ shouted Baz.
Mich finally got it together.
They were off.
Percival struck a moody pose, The Thinker, and came in, albeit slightly late, with the vocal.
It was the Pub Singer meets Sid James. On helium.
Sammy had to lean forwards. He was battering the kick drum so hard that it was creeping away from him across the carpet. Baz had started missing chords, taking huge windmill swipes at the strings and jumping in the air to perform the splits. But he kept going – maybe he didn’t want to miss the bit with the harmonics. Mich caved in. She collapsed against the wall, sending egg trays flying, and ran for the door. She threw the couch to the side, and managed a direct hit on one of Percival’s boots.
‘What’s up with her?’ he asked, rubbing his toes through the imitation leather. ‘Looks a bit upset.’
‘Aye,' said Sammy, and laid his sticks unsteadily on his snare. ‘Somethin’ like that.’
‘Shame,’ he said. ‘I was really getting into it. Y’know?’
Baz crash-dived into the lick from the middle of ‘One Vision’, slicing the strings to imitate the percussion. He made it go
like a ten-player Galaxian machine on turbo.
Percival’s jaw dropped.