Love and music. Threads and haircuts and the land of a thousand dances. These are the things that my dreams are made of, a few of my favourite trophies. See me right now as my soul shoes step out onto the street, black trainers with three white stripes on the side. There’s a plate glass window ahead and I concentrate on my reflection as I perfect my walk. It’s a ritual that I engage in at about this time every night.
I head off down the street, past a row of identikit watering holes. There’s a group of blokes outside one of them, in ill-fitting suits, exuding loud laughter and overbearing enthusiasm. I don’t think they noticed a Perry boy like me waltzing by. It's the same with all of my soul sophisticates. We’re invisible. The Invisible Men. Unseen by the un-wised up majority.
I turn left down an alleyway and head through a doorway, into a dark bar that’s sparsely populated. Coming out of the speakers are the sweetest grooves you ever did hear, tunes with the texture of the richest honey. Right now there’s some pure new British soul creeping into my ears as I purchase a small bottle of the amber nectar. There are few things in the world so perfect as a mood like this.
I grab a bar stool by the window and watch the clubbers as they pass, engaging in the opening salvos of the evening. I let the cool lager bathe my palate and slip gently down my throat. I contemplate the view and the feel of the moment and smile to myself as it takes me in.
I like to do this, arrive a little early, have the first drink in the peace of my own company. It lets you get your head together and enter the mood of the next few hours. But there is only so much time for such thoughts. I have things to do, people to meet. I’m meeting Ritchie in here in about five minutes. I glance out of the window at the bouncer who’s asking some unfortunate young Barbie dolls for their id. I’m about to order another beer when a pint is thrust in front of me.
“There you go”, says Ritchie. “Get that down you”.
“Where did you appear from”, I reply.
“Didn’t think you saw me. You were in a world of your own”.
“Yeah, well. You know. Just thinking, as you do”.
“Right”. He laughs. “No problem”.
I look at my compatriot. He’s Mr Sharp, short and skinny with a razor crop haircut, in a polo shirt and a black sweater and sta prest and loafers. It’s the perfect look, without even trying. I met him at a gig a while back. Well, I saw him there, if I’m honest. Then we met up on that great modern invention the world wide web, a perfect breeding ground for style and underground insurrection. Gone are the days when people looked in suspicion if you said you’d met some of your friends on the web. Now it's all the rage.
“So what are we up to?”, asks Ritchie, drinking his pint faster than I can keep up with.
“Well”, I say to him. “Let’s have these and go and see a band”.
“Good idea”, he replies, grinning.
We’re spoilt for choice, these days. There are bands to go and see every night of the week. I can’t remember a time when the scene was as vibrant as it is now. There are flyers everywhere, posters, advertisements for gigs. It’s weird to think that only a few years ago it seemed that enthusiasm for guitar, bass and drums was dead. No one was keen on live music, back then. Don’t get me wrong, I love clubs as much as anyone, but there’s something special about checking out a band live and listening to new tunes and getting new ideas as they come along. It’s especially good to pick up on a band on their way up, seeing them before anyone else and knowing that this scene is one that the silent majority doesn’t understand.
And it's with that sense of optimism that we finish our beers and hit the street with the Summer breeze in our hair and a tune of the most soulful in our beating hearts. We cross the road and make our way down into town, weaving through the Friday night hordes as they visit bar upon bar, a game we have engaged in on many occasions. We head off down the road, into the subterranean belly of the city’s live music scene.
Then we’re there, at our chosen spot. We walk through the door and up the steps and pay the boy on the desk, who engages us in banter about the bands on tonight. And then we’re at the bar.
There’s a band onstage, a four piece. At the front of the stage is a diva with a blonde bob in a little black dress. They’re a little soulful, with an edge that gets the feet moving, as they deliver a set of Motown and Stax tunes. They’re called 48 Thrills and the title does them proud. The chanteuse is currently standing, one hand on her hip, the other on the microphone, letting those blue eyes survey the crowd as she tells them all about her life.
Coming to see this outfit was no accident. I had it planned at the outset. There I was, sitting all innocently back at my estate, in common parlance a bedsit, visiting various websites, including Facebook and, on this occasion, My Space. The screen flashed up and in that welcoming blue font, the words “friend request” were sitting on the left. It's always a little exciting when that happens. I clicked on the words and there was a picture of a glamorous blonde lady, next to the legend “Samantha Thrills wants to be your friend”.
I clicked on the photo and I was taken into a brilliant cyber world of Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, to a soundtrack of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas’ Heatwave. In the text was reference to her band, so I clicked on their profile and added them as a friend. Then I listened to their version of the tune in question and sent Samantha a message thanking her for the add. She came back and told me about the gig they were going to play tonight, inviting me to check them out.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m impressed. Samantha certainly has that torch singer quality running through every vein in her body. And the band back her up brilliantly, delivering the Motown groove to perfection. I stand and watch, as the crowd moves around and sings along.
Ritchie looks across. “Samantha Thrills”, he says . From the smile on his face and the glint in his eye I think he’ll be coming to see them again.
“She added me”.
We laugh. Him as well.
They’re onstage for around twenty minutes. After they’ve finished, we head to the bar. It's that no man’s land between bands, when people just stand around, chatting. The band pack up and Ritchie hands me my pint. I watch as the equipment’s moved around on the stage, guitars taken away, the microphone put in a different position.
Then I spot 48 Thrills on my left. They’ve just come out of the changing room and are starting to hang round in the crowd. And there’s Samantha, a quick change later, in a black jacket, which sits loosely over her shoulders. I think for a moment about going over to say hello to her. But she’s engaged in conversation with a young Turk who’s giving it all he’s got.
But then our attention’s taken by another piece of potential fun when Ritchie spots a group of girls heading into the place. He walks over to where they’re standing.
As we walk by, Samantha looks up and sees me but there’s no recognition at all. The wonder of My Space and Facebook doesn’t always extend to a physical meeting. People look different on the internet. She must add so many people she doesn’t remember who they are.
But who cares.
And I spy Ritchie talking loudly to the girls. I think about going to join him but decide he doesn’t need anyone to cramp his style. So I make my way out of the club in the direction of another venue.
It's warm out here, still thronged with people, milling around, going to clubs. Voices are loud and so are tempers. There’s more than one altercation that looks like it's going to get out of hand. I walk by, as couples argue and individuals raise their voices. There’s a police car sitting in the Square, waiting.
I head up the street and consider going for another beer before I get to my destination. I decide against it. I carry on and in a few minutes am walking through the doors of my chosen spot. Once again, there’s someone sitting outside taking the money and I smile as I hand over my five pounds and he stamps my hand and I’m in. There’s a poster on the wall. There are three boys in Fred Perry polo’s and Ben Sherman shirts and underneath it states simply “The Circles”.
I wander through the club and check a few Faces I recognise. I buy a beer and lean against the bar as I’m waiting. There’s a band of three young mop tops on the stage. They’re some way through their set of rhythm and blues. There are soulful vocals from the accomplished bass player and guitarist - who plays a pink paisley telecaster - and some awesome stick work from the Moon reincarnation of a drummer. It could be Marriott and Lane up there - with Moonie on drums, which sounds good to me. You can‘t fault them and the audience - many of whom they clearly know – are getting into it with true passion.
Then it’s time for the last one. “This is a song by Sam Cooke“, announces the bass player. This is called Shake”. I know the tune intimately. The Small Faces did an excellent version. They launch into the song and I get up front right there in the middle of the crowd, dancing with the legions of beautiful people who have crammed into the auditorium. The performance is top drawer, tight and alive and electric. There’s an impressive drum solo towards the end which everyone gets into. I let my feel move.
And then it's over and I stand in the corner of the club and watch as the band clear their equipment away and the music comes on. There’s some pure Tamla gold creeping into my ears, Diana Ross with the softest, coolest voice you ever did hear telling the world about Baby Love. And then I see her. She has her back to me but she turns, almost like she knows there’s someone here. She throws her blonde hair back and her big blue eyes fix themselves onto me and she smiles that sweetest smile and starts her walk across the dance floor, to where I’m standing. This is one lady who’s path I’ve been known to cross at similar witching hours and the result has always to our mutual benefit if you understand what I’m saying. Let me introduce her to you. This is Katie.
Now, Katie and me go back a long way, a very long way. In fact we were very close once upon a time, what you might call an established item if you wanted to. But you know how these things are. She went away to college for a while and certain opportunities appeared which I really didn’t want to turn down. Let’s just say we drifted apart. It happens sometimes.
“All right babes”, she says when she gets to me. “Where you been hiding?”.
“Oh”, I say. “Here and there”, I smile.
“Typical”, she laughs.
“I’ve missed you”, I say to her. Well I have. In a way.
“Oh have you?”.
This lady claims a unique place in this heart of mine. She always has, ever since we met all that time ago. But tonight any chance of a reconciliation is abruptly finished. A bloke with a perfectly trimmed brown barnet - but one that looks more like a public schoolboy than one of us lot - walks across and puts his arm round her shoulder. She smiles at me.
“This is Andy”.
The new boyfriend clearly doesn’t realise who I am. He seems a lot older than us. He lifts his hand up and we shake and have a short chat about the band and the scene here. I’m not sure what I think. He seems a decent enough geezer, if you can get over the well to do accent.
I take my leave and let them do their thing. The bands have all finished now and, whilst the sounds from the speakers are hot, I’ve had enough of this environment. And I don’t really want to spend more time than I have to in his company.
So I tuck my bottle under my arm and head off out of the venue and up the street. I wish I’d gone and joined Ritchie. But it’s too late for that. So I walk.
There’s trouble on the Square now. It’s finally broken out. Two blokes are having a go at another bloke and people are standing round watching. No one is doing anything to stop it. I’m not going to be the one to stick my neck out and become another victim of crime, as the papers describe it. I walk past and across the street. A police car comes down and stops and two coppers get out and walk across to break it up.
So much for that. Let them fight it out among themselves. I’m in the mood for food. There’s an old fashioned chip shop near here. I fancy a bag of vinegar stained chips just to keep me going. So I head in that direction and am soon there. I stand in a queue and it doesn’t take long for them to turn to me and take my order. Next to me is a old man.
“It's like the Monkey Parade out here tonight”, he says. My mind starts to go back. The Monkey Parade. My Grandad told me about that. Back in his day, in the town where he grew up, they used to get dressed up and spend the night walking up and down the main street, having a party and getting the mating game going. They had no money in those days. It was the best way they could get their entertainment.
Fast forward to now. Nothing’s really changed, when you think about it. We make our pleasure and take our fun and make it come alive the best way we can. This is our world. Our stage. Our catwalk to preen and waltz and dream. An arena where we engage in our celebration of what it is to be alive and free of thought and spirit. Our moment. Our Monkey Parade.
My soul shoes step out onto the street.