The Kaptain’s Kabin was going wild. Sammy flammed the cymbals, and a shower of sweat erupted off his head onto his drums.
This, he thought, is better than sex with any woman.
Mich threw him a towel.
‘Cheers, doll!’ he shouted.
She blew him a kiss.
There was shoving room only at the bar. Fat Edgar, sitting at the table directly in front of the stage, had four pints of Guinness in front of him. ‘Dae Layla!’ he shouted for the hundredth time.
Baz bowed to the crowd and started tuning up. Something went Ping!
Christ, thought Sammy. No again. He watched Baz loping towards him, that stupid grin all over his face. ‘That’s ma top E away again,’ he said.
Sammy glared at him. ‘Well fuckin’ chainge it!’ he said.
Fat Edgar started slapping his knees. A low drone of Layla! Layla! started to hum round the bar.
Baz pushed his guitar down and round and strutted to the front of the stage. He tugged the microphone out of Bear’s hand. ‘Laydeez and genewmen!’ he announced. ‘Now fur somethin’ yez’ve never seen before!’ He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a harmonica. It flashed gold under the lights.
Whit the fuck is this? thought Sammy.
‘This song’s called Layla,’ said Baz, and nudged Bear out of the way. He cupped his hands over the mike and went straight into the riff. Then the rhythm part. Then back to the riff. He turned, jumped and did the mid-air splits. When his feet hit the floor, Sammy and Mich came in, thumping and chugging.
Fuckin’ hell, thought Sammy. This is brilliant. The crowd were loving it. Fat Edgar had his hands raised over his head, all praise to Baz, the Master!
Of course, there was a problem. Drive! were a one microphone band, and all too soon it was time for Bear to come in with the vocal. He tried to wrestle the mike out of Baz’s hand, but he was too well into the song, and so were the punters, all two hundred of them. They were going mental. He was frantically jumping up and down, like a spoiled kid on a trampoline that won’t bounce, trying to reach the mike, but there was no way Baz was going to hand it over.
Fat Edgar got to his feet. He chased Bear all over the stage, but the wee man was too fast. Someone kicked open the fire escape, and he pelted into the car park.
Drive! finished the set as a three-piece. Back in the van, Baz wanted to do a three-way split.
‘No way,’ said Sammy. ‘Ah’ll hang oan tae Bear’s share. Ah’ll gie it tae um next week when ae comes roond tae the flat.’
Bear didn’t come round to the flat. Sammy bumped into him on the Tuesday morning. ‘When ye comin’ roond fur yer money?’ he asked.
‘Fuck the money!’ said Bear. ‘That’s me, man, the show’s over. Ah’m goin’ back tae the waiterin’ doon Rose Street. Nae cunt hunts me fae ma ain gig!’
There was something else, Sammy knew, that was bothering him even more.
‘Fuckin’ upstaged by a mooth organ, tae!’ said Bear. ‘Ye kiddin’?!’
‘Ach, ye ken whit Baz’s like,’ said Sammy. ‘Always got tae be the centre ae attention. Ye shouldae came back in.’
Bear looked at him as if he was a total clown.
‘Whit aboot Friday?’ said Sammy. The sun was out, but he felt something cold blowing down his neck.
‘Get rid ae Baz an’ ah’ll think aboot it,’ said Bear, and hobbled off down the street.
They missed the Friday gig. Barring holidays, it was the first time in three years. Sammy made up an excuse about Bear being sick. The fact was that Bear had disappeared. Sammy had gone round to his flat, and the front door had been lying wide open, not a scrap of the wee man’s chattels in sight.
He knew they were in trouble.
Mich was trying to prop the couch against the door. She almost had it vertical when it swayed to the side, scraping three cardboard egg trays off the wall.
Sammy caught the glare out of the corner of his eye, but kept his head down. It was his birthday. He was not having a good time. Watching Mich destroy the flat wasn’t helping matters. Bear still hadn’t shown up, but that was the least of his problems.
The landlord’s representative had paid him a wee visit that morning. He had known what the message would be, because it was always the same. Fair enough, the neighbours had every right to complain about the noise; living next to a flat where a rock band practised three times a week must have been a bit trying on the nerves. But Sammy had, he felt, done his part to remedy the situation. That’s why there were cardboard egg trays stuck all over the walls. They looked exactly like the soundproofing they used in recording studios. It was a pity they refused to stick to the plaster, but at least he was trying. The landlord didn’t think he was trying hard enough. He wanted Sammy out.
And what had Mich given him for his birthday? A fucking click track! She would have been as well telling him his drumming stank. A slap across the face would have been less painful. He’d thrown it into a drawer in the bedroom when she wasn’t looking. It would be staying there.
He adjusted his snare so it was in exactly the right spot. It wasn’t difficult. He only had two drums, two cymbals and a hi-hat. The snare alone had cost him the best part of five hundred quid. His next purchase was going to be a good stool. He was making do with an unopened parcel of DHSS blankets until he got enough money together for the deposit.
The couch crashed to the floor.
Baz looked up. He had his guitar sitting across his knees. He had just broken his top E, again, and was busy carrying out a repair that would probably last well into tomorrow.
Mich propped the couch against the door. Another egg tray slid down the wall. ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Sammy,’ she said. ‘I told you this was a waste of time.’
‘Ah dinnae hear the neighbours complainin’,’ he said. He started tapping out sixteenths on the hi-hat, TktkTktkTktkTktk, watching Baz’s pathetic performance with the guitar string. He threw his sticks into the corner behind the drums. ‘Fuck’s sake, Baz!’ he said. ‘You take the biscuit, man! Look at ye!’
Baz threaded the string through the body of the guitar and started twisting the end with a wee pair of pliers. ‘Whit ye oan aboot?’ he said.
Sammy leaped off his blankets and thrust his hands into his pockets, rummaging around. It was only for effect. His pockets were empty. But he’d had enough of Baz acting skint. While he was investing thousands in top of the range drums, Baz was still using a Telecaster copy he’d picked up at a police sale for a fiver. ‘How much is a new string?’ he said. ‘Ten bob? Go doon tae Jackie’s an’ get a new yin. Fuck’s sake...ah, fuck it!’
Baz plugged his guitar into his amp. He started tuning up, laying his pinkie gently across the strings and teasing out the harmonics with his plectrum. He turned slowly to Sammy. His voice was calm. ‘Sit doon, Sammy,’ he said. ‘Ah’ve fixed it.’
Sammy drew two new sticks out of the velvet pouch on the front of his bass drum. He battered the snare, segueing his anger into one of the band’s standard covers, ‘Stick It Where The Sun Don’t Shine’. Mich was right on it, and Baz joined in, slightly late, but perfectly in tune. Sammy felt the weight lift from his shoulders as the music took over.
The song reached its usual, deafening finish, Sammy flamming the cymbals while the guitarists slid their hands down their fretboards.
Sammy closed his eyes. Aye, he thought. That’ll do.
‘That endin’s shite,’ said Baz. ‘It sounds like the theme tune off Weekend World. We hud tae watch that every Sunday...’
Sammy’s drums went DUH-DUH-DUH-ttsschohhhh. He wasn’t in the mood for more tales of Baz’s painful childhood. Maybe it was a good job Bear wasn’t there. That would have been too much.
Mich leaned on her bass. ‘Why don’t you try the click track, Sammy?’ she smiled.
‘Fuck that,’ said Baz. ‘Where’s Bear?’
Sammy skelped out the intro to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Mich was immediately into it. It would be a great song to play at weddings, just before the fighting started. He shook the thought out of his head. Drive! weren’t a wedding band, and never would be. They were a rock band, the best in Edinburgh.
Baz lifted his packet of 10 Regal off the mantelpiece and took his time firing one up. He stuck it into the neck of his guitar and eventually joined in, playing in a different key to Mich and at a different tempo to Sammy.
They sounded like an ice cream van reversing fast down a tunnel.
Sammy threw his sticks into the corner. The plaster was pock marked with hundreds of small black streaks. It was the only place they hadn’t bothered to stick egg trays. They would have had even less chance than the ones round the door.
Mich stopped, too, and stared at Baz, who was still playing. After a moment, he lifted his head. ‘Whit?’ he said. ‘Ah telt ye tae play it in E so’s we could yaze the harmonics.’ He withdrew the cigarette from its holder and took a series of short, sharp puffs.
Sammy had had enough. He swung the couch to the side. Another egg tray flapped to the carpet. The area round the door was now clear.
‘Ah’ll huv a cuppa if ye’re makin’ yin!’ Baz shouted at his back.
Sammy tried to fill the kettle, but the spout was rattling too much against the tap.
‘Calm down,’ said Mich, and hugged him. ‘You know what he’s like.’
He laid the kettle on the draining board and turned to face her. The sound of Eddie Van Halen riffs came dive-bombing down the loby. ‘Whit’re we goannae dae, doll?’ he asked her.
She kissed his nose. ‘We’ve still got each other,’ she said.
That was true, but it wasn’t enough. It never would be.
She was smiling. It sounded like Yngwe Malmsteen was having a creatively epileptic fit in the living room.
Hang on, he thought. What if she meant... The three of them were still together. Fine, Bear had a voice like an angel, but it was Baz that was special. Everybody knew it. Guitarists in Baz’s league came along once in a generation. Comments had been doing the rounds of the local music scene comparing him with the greats – Hendrix, Clapton, all of the black bluesmen. It would have been easy to dismiss it all as exaggeration, as so much hot air, but Sammy had been around long enough to know that his guitarist in his band was the business. The guy was a one-off, a fucking phenomenon.
So why were they still playing cover versions once a week in the Kaptain’s Kabin, Dalkeith?
Sammy’s dream was to land a regular gig at the Prezzie Hall, Edinburgh’s premier venue. If they got in there, everything else would be inevitable. But one thing had been holding them back. Bear was not star quality. They had started calling him the Danny De Vito of Edinburgh pub rock. If they ever did get a spot at the Prezzie Hall, they’d be laughed off the stage, they’d be regarded as a novelty act, like the fucking Black Abbots or worse. And Sammy had to admit it, Bear had been boring him for a few years now with his reworkings of bog standard Joe Cocker and Dire Straits numbers. What they should do was use his absence to start writing their own material again, like in the old days, before age, familiarity and complacency – and Bear – had taken over.
He reached for the kettle. ‘Where’s the writin’ pad?’ he said.
He laid Baz’s tea gently on top of his amp. ‘There ye go,’ he said. He knew he would have to tread carefully. The last thing he wanted was Baz legging it down to Rose Street begging for forgiveness and dragging the singer back into the fold. The Bear days were over. ‘Aboot yer question earlier oan there,’ he said, and blew on his tea. ‘Bear’s jacked the band.’
Baz looked at him, his cup half way to his mouth. ‘How d’ye mean?’ he said.
Guid, thought Sammy. Ae looks betrayed. Play oan that. ‘Chainge ae heart or somethin’. Said ae wis pissed off daein’ covers.’
‘The cunt!’ A wave of tea lapped over the side of Baz’s cup. He held it away from him, letting the hot liquid splash onto his amp. ‘If ae wanted tae write ae could’ve said! Ah’d’ve been intae it!’
Oh, you good thing, thought Sammy. ‘Ma thoughts exactly, Baz,’ he said. ‘But there ye go.’ He scratched his nose. ‘Ah bumped intae um doon the street. Ae’s mind’s made up. ‘That’s it,’ ae says. ‘Dinnae try tae get me tae come back.’.’
Baz looked as if he’d just been told about a death in the family. He leaned his guitar against the fireplace and stood at the window, thinking. Sammy didn’t want him thinking too much. He wanted to get him involved in the plan.
‘So the next step, as ah say, is tae find another voice. Ah’m talkin’ aboot goin’ fur it this time, Baz, the fuckin’ works, the full monty.’
Baz continued to stare out of the window.
‘Startin’ right now,’ said Sammy, and flapped the piece of writing paper.
‘Not going to use your click track, Sammy?’ said Mich. She did not look chuffed. Hell, thought Sammy, the writing pad must have been in the drawer in his bedroom.
‘Aye, eh, maybe later, doll...’
‘Whit’s that?’ said Baz. His eyes were red.
Sammy flapped the paper again. He felt like he was waving goodbye to Mich, who had walked out.
Back to business.
‘We’re goannae write an advert an’ pit it in Jackie’s windae,’ he said.
Baz’s eyebrows creased.
‘Fur a new singer,’ said Sammy. ‘We cannae jist sit...’
Baz was having none of it. ‘Ah say fur the three ae us tae go roond tae Bear’s an’ get this mess sorted oot. Ah mean the band...withoot Bear...it’s...’
‘Ae’s done a bunk,’ said Sammy.
‘Oh, not again,’ said Mich. She was standing just outside the door. She’s forgotten about the click track already, thought Sammy. Great lassie.
‘Like ah say, though,’ said Sammy, ‘ae’s mind’s made up, so in the meantime...’
‘If Bear’s oot,’ said Baz, ‘ah’m takin’ a walk.’
‘...that of course we’ve got tae dae everythin’ tae get um back intae the band.’
‘But listen tae this,’ Sammy went on, improvising as if his life depended on it. ‘In the meantime we let um cool off. Then...get this...we find somebody an’ work oot a set. Nae covers. Original stuff. Then when we’ve got ten or eleven songs ready we say choorio tae the dull cunt an’ gie Bear a shout. Ae’ll be back in a flash.’
Even Sammy could have believed it. But by the time they had a set worked out with the new singer, whoever it was, Bear would be a distant memory. Then the sky really would be the limit.
Baz was mulling it over. ‘Ah’ll think aboot it,’ he said.
‘Well, that’s aw ah’m askin’,’ said Sammy, and coughed lightly into his fist. He felt sweat on his top lip. ‘Let’s dae it, then,’ he said.
He wasn’t sure, but he reckoned it was going to cost him a small fortune in Embassy Regal to keep the boy onside. Added to that, if they couldn’t find a replacement soon, then the show, for the lot of them, definitely would be over. For good.