Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Percival's Audition - from Drive!

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.’
‘Hi there!’
‘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.
‘Er, yeah…’
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.
Baz stooped and pulled the microphone out of his amp. ‘Aye, Perce,’ he smiled. ‘We’ll let ye know.’

*     *     *

The above extract is from the novel, Drive!. The eBook edition can be purchased on Amazon uk.
It is also available on Amazon com.

The paperback edition is available from the Amazon UK site.


Wee Morag's Audition - from Drive!

There was a smell of aftershave in the living room. Sammy looked around. Baz had combed his hair, and was wearing a clean jumper.
Right enough. The audition. Mich had organised it – a woman, no less.
‘Ah hope she’s good lookin’,’ said Baz.
‘No idea,’ said Mich, and tutted. She’d put up an ad at her women’s rights group.
‘She’s no a dyke, though?’ said Baz.
Sammy could tell he was taking the piss.
‘Mind you,’ Baz went on. ‘It’ll be awright if she looks like Suzanne Vega, eh?’
‘Suzanne Vega isn’t a lesbian,’ said Mich.
Baz laughed like a drain.
The practice was for one o’clock, but they gave up waiting at half past. Sammy went to the kitchen to put the kettle on, and heard something scratching at the front door. He opened it. She’d probably been standing there for half an hour, pawing the wood.
‘Hello,’ she whispered. ‘I’m Morag.’
She didn’t look like Suzanne Vega. She looked like that lassie off Scooby Doo, not the ride, the other yin, the wee fat yin with the glasses, the yin that Scooby Doo himself wouldn’t have gone near.
She had an acoustic guitar in a polythene bag.
‘Aye?’ said Sammy. He’d tell her she had the wrong address.
‘I’m here for the...’
He was already closing the door. Mich kicked his ankle.
‘Hi!’ she said. ‘Are you Morag? We’ve been waiting for you!’
She showed her into the living room.
Baz started playing the music off Cartoon Cavalcade. Loud.
Morag stood against one of the walls. An egg tray slid down the back of her leg.  ‘Oh...sorry,’ she whispered.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Mich.
‘So, eh, whit kind ae music are ye intae?’ asked Sammy. He was dying to hear the answer.
Morag looked at the carpet. ‘I like that ‘Wordy Rappinghood’,’ she said. ‘That’s a good one.’
Twang-ang-ang, went Baz’s guitar.
‘Gary Davies plays it on his Bit In The Middle,’ she explained, then gave them a stammering rendition of the first verse, complete with a jerky little dance, the buckles on her sandals making a clinking sound.
‘Sister,’ said Mich, and touched her on the arm. ‘You don’t need to do this.’
Sammy sighed. This was a complete waste...
‘I’ve written a song!’ she said.
She put her guitar round her neck. It was a rigmarole; she couldn’t get the strap over the hood of her duffel coat. She started tapping out the rhythm on the wood, and Sammy got in behind his drums. You never knew – maybe she’d been winding them up. He kept it soft, hi-hat and rim shots. It sounded okay. It would never do for the band, but well done, Morag, you’ve had a go at writing a song, it’s quite good, now it’s time for you to fuck off.
Baz came in with some chords; a wee bit of chorus. He started improvising.
Mich picked up her bass.
Very soon, it became clear that Baz was picking out the theme tune to Scooby Doo. He looked at Morag, and winked. ‘We’re really jammin’ now,’ he mouthed.
Morag stopped. She looked at Sammy. ‘It’s supposed to be a waltz,’ she said.
Sammy bit his lip, and nodded. ‘A waltz is jist 6:8 slowed doon,’ he informed her.
She blushed. ‘Can we try it without the drums?’ she said, and looked at the other two. ‘Just till you hear what it goes li...’
Sammy walked out. He didn’t throw his sticks into the corner. He didn’t have the energy.

from Slim Scotchboy, Hero

They went downstairs. Andrew was aware of something small and uncomfortable clinging to the side of his neck, like a nascent goitre; being an award winner (and what an award!), Andrew was deemed acceptable company. There was no way Slim would be mixing it with the haikuists and Top Tips contributors who formed the majority at the Writers’ Circle, no matter how many haiku and Top Tips they’d had published.  Just as they sat down at a corner table, Dug walked in. Andrew raised a hand. ‘Dug!’ he shouted. ‘Over here!’
Dug pulled his coat tighter and negotiated a path through the bodies. He looked upset. Of course he did. He thought he’d missed the show.
‘What’s your pleasure?’ said Andrew.
‘Pint of Guinness,’ said Dug, and squeezed in beside Slim.
‘You’re slightly late,’ said Andrew.
‘Don’t I know it,’ said Dug.
‘No problem,’ said Andrew, and went to the bar. He watched Dug sitting there, next to the stranger. Didn’t he recognise him? Surely he’d seen photographs? They weren’t even boring each other with small talk. Slim was scanning the bar for journalists in need of an interview while Dug stared angrily at the floor.  
Andrew laid the beer on the table. ‘You two seem to have hit it off,’ he said.
‘Cheers,’ said Dug, and lifted his drink.
Andrew arranged himself just-so in his chair. He was looking forward to the following exchange. ‘Dug,’ he said. ‘Meet Slim Scotchboy.’
Dug turned in his seat. His jaw actually dropped open.
‘Slim,’ said Andrew, ‘this is Dug Lloyd, Grangeburn’s burning white hot literary hope for the future.’
‘Awright there, Dug?’ said Slim.
‘Fuck’s sake,’ Dug managed. ‘You’re the reason I started writing!’
‘Oh, pleeeeeease!’ said Slim, and waved a skinny hand in the air as if he were autographing the boy’s oxygen supply.
Andrew couldn’t stop his teeth grinding slightly. ‘Yes, indeed,’ he said. ‘If you want to know the ins and outs of the Past Perfect, Dug’s your man.’
‘Aye?’ said Slim.
‘Eh, aye,’ said Dug. He was squirming around like a besotted teenage girl. ‘I’ve got a Preparatory Certificate in EFL. English as a Foreign Language.’
Slim whipped a notebook out of his donkey jacket and licked the end of a pencil that had been hiding behind his ear. ‘Good title for a Scotsman’s book,’ he said, and scrawled something on a clean page. When he was finished, he looked up. Then he looked back at the page and turned the notebook slightly so it was visible to one and all. He fashioned a large © at the end of the scribble. What an arse.
‘You reckon?’ said Dug, amazed that something that had come out of his mouth was deemed worthy of...
Christ, thought Andrew. Any more of this and I’m going to vomit.
‘Just make sure ye write as much as possible,’ said Slim. ‘That’s the only advice I can give ye.’
It was all Dug could do to stop himself etching the remark on a beermat and getting Slim to sign it; and getting Slim to sign it would have presented no problem, Andrew was sure. But this was exactly the kind of advice Andrew had been dishing out for months. Without the fawning response, he was rather put out to note.
‘Ye working?’ said Slim.
‘Aye,’ Dug trembled. ‘I’m teaching in a Primary School.’
‘So ye’ve been to Uni, then?’
Dug hesitated. How would the information about his halcyon University days sit with someone who had carved out a semi-autobiographical niche in tales of rock concert-goers and drug-taking tramps? ‘Aye,’ he said, eventually. ‘The University of Scotland. Philosophy.’
‘That right?’ said Slim. ‘I was there, too. Contemporary Scottish Literature.’ He sniffed. ‘First Class Honours, like.’
There was a crash as the barman fumbled a wet beer glass, though it could just as easily have been the sound of Dug’s illusion shattering. Andrew was surprised, too. And more than a little delighted.
‘What?’ said Slim. ‘D’ye no think that squares with yarns about sleeping rough?’
Dug picked up his glass. He didn’t drink anything. He laid it heavily on the table and stared at it.
‘Oh, here we go,’ said Slim. He yawned, and looked at his watch. ‘Ye know how many times I’ve had this conversation? It’s a pain in the slats. I’ll put it this way. There’s a grain of truth in the fiction, right? ‘Grain’ being a measure of something really small. And fiction being, well, fiction.’
‘I sense disappointment radiating in waves,’ said Andrew.
‘Anyway,’ said Slim, and slapped his palms on his knees. ‘That’s me. Got to get back up the road.’ Deirdre Boyce approached and handed him a wee brown envelope.
‘That’ll be your bus fare,’ Dug pouted.
‘Aye,’ said Slim. ‘Beats putting the bite on cunts outside supermarkets, eh? Nice meeting ye, Andrew. Come through the Third Eye next week, I’m doing a thing with Jimmy Kelman and Norman MacCaig. Should be good.’
‘I’ll check my diary,’ said Andrew.
Slim scouted the bar for autograph hunters. Someone at Deirdre’s table waved to him. He was there in a flash.