Thursday, 17 January 2013

Live From The Monkey Parade

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.
  “Too right”.
  “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?”.
  “I have”.
  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.

Johnny Ska

It's the right end of the week.  Friday, five o’clock.  Time to forget the uppers and downers of the last few days and get yourself in gear for what matters.  Time for action.
  I’ve been sitting at my pc in the office, the world going by out of the window, through the Summer rain.  I’ve been pondering what to wear tonight - either the white t-shirt with the northern soul logo or the black gingham Ben Sherman – and have been on the web, checking out what’s been going down in this world of confusion.  A report on falling standards in education.  Another on sick days lost to the economy.  A columnist bemoaning the “binge drinking” culture.  Same old day, same old rubbish.
  I smile to myself at that as I head off past the café bars and across the Market Square.  I quite fancy a cappuccino, or maybe a latte, right now.  But I’m too late.  Most of the cafes are beginning to close up at the end of a busy Summers day.  In fact, the café bars selling rather stronger beverages are getting some clientele.  People are sitting outside after a day at the office.  There are students chilling.  Others are taking advantage of a day off.  Urban continental café culture hits town.  I’m tempted but I want to save it for later.  Anyway, I’ve got a new idea about what to wear tonight.  I can’t hang about.  I need to get to the Fred Perry shop on Bridlesmith Gate.
  I turn the corner off from the Square down the cobbled street.  The shop is sitting there on the right, with pictures from the sixties and album covers in the window.  I head through the door and the fella who runs the place nods at me and smiles.  It looks like I’ve got around ten minutes until this emporium of good taste shuts its doors.  Up ahead are some strides and jackets.  But what I’ve come for are further back.  The polo’s.  All neatly folded and waiting for the likes of me to come and sample their delights.  All the colours of the rainbow.  Buttoned up and inviting.
  It uplifts me, this place.  The whole ethos is one of style and taste.  In The Crowd by The Jam is blasting out of the speaker.  It makes you feel “the weekend starts here”, as Ready Steady Go used to announce many years before yours truly started his voyage down this bohemian road.  The ethic lives on, of sharpness, suss and independence, from generation to generation and throughout life.  These days you have people who are in their sixties who have been into this scene since they were teenagers.  Just like I will.
  I return to the polo’s.  Each has a piece of tissue paper inside.  It adds the feel of quality that pervades the place.  I take care as I handle them and lift up a couple to look closer.  I’ve got a black one and a blue one and a white one.  And a whole lot more.  But there’s one in particular that jumps out at me.  It has the same colours as the first polo I bought when I was fourteen.  Red with a blue trim.  Handsome.
  “Can I try this one mate”, I ask.
  “Course you can”, he says.  And I make my way to the back of the shop.  I take off the shirt I’ve been wearing at work and slip on the Fred Perry.  It’s a perfect size and is just what I need on this Friday evening.  I look in the mirror.  It has to be done.
  I put the shirt back on and go back into the shop.
  “I’ll have that mate”.
  “Good choice”, he says.
  He goes over to the till and I give him my crisp notes and he puts the polo in the distinctive “Fred Perry” bag - an advertisement of class - and I’m out of the shop.
  I have a big grin on my face. I always do when I buy a new Fred Perry and I step on it because I’m keen to wear it quickly.  I head down the road, across the cobbles, holding my purchase close to me in the bright Summer sunshine and who should I see coming towards me.  My old compatriot going by the name of Johnny Ska.  He’s all smiles.  He always is.  He’s got a blonde barnet, cropped on top but longer at the sides, and is sporting a beige Harrington and light blue Levis.  His look’s finished off with a pair of white Adidas trainers.  He has a Merc airline bag on his shoulder.
  “Arritteeeeee!!!! “, he yells when he sees me.  “How you doin matee”.
  He’s full of the joys of Spring.  As always.  Johnny has acquired his moniker,  on account of his fondness for a certain music that hit these shores in the early sixties.  By me anyway.  And then there’s his lifestyle.  He lives his days like a member of the privileged gentry.  Not that, to my knowledge at least, he has any private income.  In fact I very much doubt it.  But that doesn’t stop him.  He considers, in contrast to everyone else you see around, that this world does indeed owe him, not only a living, but a luxurious one at that.
  “I’m doing sound, my friend”, I say as I greet him, and he shakes my hand.
  “And what do you have in that bag of yours?”, he asks.
  “Aah, you know.  Some threads”.
  “Yes, fellow Perry Boy.  Looking good.  What you up to now?”.
  “Just on my way home.  Get myself sorted for the next few hours”.
  “Well you can put that on hold.  You can join me for a quick whet of the whistle”.
  He turns and heads off down towards the Market Square and the nearest watering hole.  I don’t have to be dragged by the hand.  While I generally prefer to save my imbibing for later on in the midnight hour, I can be tempted by the likes of Johnny to have a quick beer at this time in the evening.  So I walk alongside him, indulging in banal chatter until he walks into this light and airy hostelry just off from the Square and heads over to the bar.
  “What will it be?”, he asks.
  I have a quick look at what they have available.  No Red Stripe, sadly.  So I order a pint of draught lager and when it arrives put it to my lips and savour the cool flavour as it starts its work.
  “So what you been up to?”, I ask the boy.
  “Aah, you know.  The usual sort of thing.  Bit of DJ’ing here.  Bit of DJ’ing there”.
  I had almost forgotten.  In his bid to secure his long term future as a member of the idle rich, Johnny has been known to undertake a little of the fun and games behind the wheels of steel.  Spinning classic blue beat, soul, Motown and Stax, along with vintage funk and some of the more discerning beat combos of the last thirty years or so.  Puts on a fine display does the boy.
  “So, any nights lined up?”, I ask him.
  “Planning something for a few weeks time.  Right here in town.  Should be a top one.  Got to sort out a venue and we’ll be right on for a great night.  I’ll let you know.  On Facebook if I don‘t see you before.”
  “Sounds good”.
  “Fancy going outside?”.
  “Don’t mind if we do”.
  So we head off out of the bar and grab some seats on the terrace out at the front.  It seems to annoy some of the bar staff because you’re supposed to have waiter service out here.  But it bothers the pair of us not one jot, as we sit and sip our lagers and watch the world go by - the office workers are beginning to thin out now as the city experiences its hiatus between the bustling day to the cool of the night and the clubbers start to arrive.  And it's not long before one beer turns into two and then three and I’m starting to think about the time for getting home and meeting Ritchie and all that stuff.  Not that I’ve made any plans of course.  But it's normally how things turn out.
  So I take advantage of Johnny’s visit to the little boys room and get out the mobile and give Ritchie a call.  I can imagine his Jam ringtone - A Town Called Malice - start to play wherever he is and in a few moments he answers.
  “All right”.
  “Mate.  Listen.  You’ll never guess what”.
  “I’ve only just gone and had an audition”.
  “A what?”.
  “An audition.  With this band.  Saw em on the tinternet.  Said they wanted a drummer”.
  “I called them up and went down to where they were practising and did the audition and….
  “….got the gig”.
  “Ritchie mate.  That is awesome.  What they like?”.
  “You know me.  You know the sort of thing I’m into.  They play Jam and Who and Small Faces covers”.
  “Any original stuff?”.
  “Not yet but it's only a matter of time“.
  “So when you playing?”.
  “Dunno.  But we’re having a bit of a practice now and then it's straight into town and I can meet you somewhere”.
  “Sound.  But I’m not home yet, I’m in the Square with Johnny Ska”.
  “Do I know him?”.
  “Yeah course you do”.
  “Oh yeah I know the geezer”.
  “So I’m planning on staying here for a while and then heading off home and getting sorted and then I’ll meet you”.
  “All right mate.  Give me a call later”.
  I ring off and sit and survey the scene as I wait for Johnny.  My head is beginning to get just that little bit woozy.  On an empty stomach it always turns out this way.  I have a glance at the menu.  Very tasty.  Chillis and pizzas and Mexican stuff courtesy of this quality establishment.  It might be preferable to having to get a burger on the way home.
  It's not long before Johnny returns and I suggest that we get some food and he’s in full agreement.  So we order some fajitas, along with a fourth pint and the tongues start to loosen and the mood becomes a mixture of alcohol and adrenalin.
  The fajitas arrive and taste spot on, going down very well with the beers.  Johnny’s got some ideas for his play list.  Along with the reggae, funk and soul he’s going to be bringing in a bunch of film themes to give it that kind of kitsch feel.  I’m impressed with this and promise to be there at the next night.
  The incentive to return home and get ready to go out is fading fast.  I’m enjoying the atmosphere here and am in the mood for adding a few beers to the ones I’ve already drunk. A bus ride home would kill it, make me feel muzzy headed.  I’d probably end up falling asleep instead of having a shower and coming back.  So, when the fajitas are finished, I take my leave and head off into the establishment with Fred Perry bag in hand.
  I walk into the gents, where I liberally wash my face with cold water.  Then I take off my shirt and fold it up, and have a sniff underneath the armpits to make sure I’m fit for human contact. I take the red and blue Fred Perry out of its bag and carefully take off the labels which I put in my pocket.  I’ve got far too much respect for a Fred to throw away the label by dropping it on the floor.  I take out the tissue paper and do the same.  Then I undo the buttons.  I put the Fred on and a big smile crosses my face as I look in the mirror.  This shirt is perfect.  Do I button it up to the top? Leave one undone? I go for the former.
  I put the shirt into the bag.  I head off back to where Johnny Ska’s sitting outside.  He turns round.
  “Oh yes”, he says.  “Love the Fred matee”.
  “I had to do it”.
  “Course you did.  Do I take it that you’re not planning to head off back home?”.
  “You do”.
  “Nice one mate. In that case, let’s make a night of it”.
  And just at that moment, the tune of I Can’t Explain by The Who starts.  It's my mobile and on the other end is Ritchie.
  “Awrite”, he says.  “What's happening”.
  “We’re still sitting in the Square”.
  “You there for the night?”.
  “Looks like it”.
  “I’ll join you”.
  “Nice one mate”.
  So we sit and wait and order another pint.
  “Listen”, says Johnny.  “What you doing tomorrow night?”.
  “Dunno.  Why?”.
  “There’s this top night on at this boozer in West Bridgford.  All soul and Motown and Hammond and the like.  I tell you, my friend.  You’d love it”.
  “Sounds excellent”.
  “It's called “Rentatent”.
  “Oh yeah?”.
  We both smile to ourselves at the reference.
  “Look”, says Johnny.  I’ll meet you in town somewhere tomorrow night and we can go down there together.  Bring that mate of yours with you”.
  “That’s the one”.
  “He’s joining us in a bit”.
  “I know.  You said.  In fact….”.
  And, purely by coincidence, Ritchie appears by the side of our table as we speak.
  “All right boys”, he says.  “Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do”.
  He grins as he heads off inside the bar and emerges a few minutes later with an already half drunk pint of lager.  He sits down and becomes the latest in the line of victims to the moan of the bar staff that it's waiter service.
  “We got that earlier on”, I tell him.  We laugh.
  “Quality Fred Perry”, he says.  “Is it new?”.
  “Certainly is”, I tell him.  “Bought this evening“.
  “It looks good”.
  “So what’s this band you’ve got into?”.
  “They’re called The Replays.  It's a three piece.  There’s Mick Replay on guitar and vocals.  Then Stevo Replay on bass.  And now Ritchie Replay on drums“.
  “Ha ha.  Nice one”.
  “What do you play?”, asks Johnny.
  Ritchie repeats his lecture of earlier.  But this time giving some meat to the bone.  “They play The Kids Are All Right, Heatwave, You Really Got Me.  All that”.
  Johnny looks impressed, his blue eyes staring at Ritchie.
  “You’ll have to let me know when there’s a gig.  Now, I’ve been saying about tomorrow night”.
  Johnny tells Ritchie about Rentatent and he seems suitably impressed so it looks like we’ve got a big night ahead of us.  We finish our beers and Johnny suggests heading off somewhere else.  It's dark now and the city has come alive with ravers.
  He leads us off into a doorway where there’s an open air terrace and Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton is playing.  It's loud.  People are hanging around and some are dancing.  It's one of my favourite soul boy tunes ever so I hang around and start to move and Johnny beckons me inside.  He and Ritchie are already there and they get the beers in and thrust a can of Red Stripe in my hand which is perfect.  I’m off outside and grooving and there are some girls dancing next to me.  I start to think about Katie and wish she was here and bemoan the fact that I don’t have her mobile number or I’d call her right now.  And then I remember that Ritchie was talking to those girls and promise I’ll ask him about it.  And tell him about The Circles.
  But I don’t.  After a short while, the fact that I’ve been drinking since early evening takes its toll and I’m ready for home.  Johnny’s the same, even though he tries to deny it.  So we leave the bar and head in the direction of the taxi rank, talking loud about some scheme of Johnny’s and how It's going to be the greatest thing ever.
  There’s something kicking off in the Square again tonight.  I can hear shouting, shrieks, nastiness.  Then there are police sirens.  It always happens.
  I go across to the first taxi, tell the driver my destination and I’m in, shouting goodnight to Johnny and he raises his voice for one message.
  “Don’t forget about Rentatent tomorrow night”.

Social Networking

I won’t forget about Rentatent.  It’s the first thing I think on waking, along with the fact that I wish I’d not worn that Fred Perry.  It would have been better to have saved it for tonight which promises to be something worth attending.  I roll over.  There it is.  On the floor.  Lying there.
  I survey the scene in my bedsit.  My trousers, my loafers, my socks.  The remnants of the week.  I lift myself out of bed and look up at the The Who - Maximum R&B poster.  It covers almost a quarter of the wall opposite.  This is a tiny bedsit.  Not big enough to live in if the truth is told but one that I have become used to.  It offered me a way into the city some months back and for that I am full of gratitude of the highest order.  I can live with the cramped feel as long as I have the knowledge that I’m a stone’s throw from the bohemian delights of the centre of town, the café culture and clubs and venues and music emporiums.  Not to mention the shops selling threads.
  I lift myself out of bed and walk across and open the curtain.  Steve Marriott is looking at me, from a postcard.  And very sharp and stylish he looks as well.  I grab a cup from the side and stick a tea bag in it.  I switch on the kettle.  Then I head back to my bed and relax again.
  I lean across and turn the stereo on and put on The Small Faces Ultimate Collection.  Stevie has inspired me in that choice.  The introduction to What’cha Gonna Do About It starts to play, that memorable rhythm which gets inside you and makes you want to move even this early in the morning.  And then Stevie joins the party with his soulful vocals.  Class.
  The kettle finishes boiling and I’m up again and I make myself a drink.  I squash the tea bag against the side and put a teaspoon full of powdered milk in.  Then it's back to my bed again where I sip away and get my head in order to the sound of Stevie and the boys.
  That Rentatent sounds good tonight.  “Top night at this boozer in West Bridgford” was how Johnny described it.  And I’ve no reason to doubt his knowledge.  He has pointed me in the direction of some sound dance floors, in the past.  And I’m sure this will be just as good.  I’ll have to message him later about the plans.
  But it's far too early for that now.  It's morning.  Or perhaps not.  I have a look at my watch which confirms the time is exactly fifteen minutes after twelve.  Midday that is.  In other words it’s the afternoon.  I smile to myself.  And why not.  It shows I had a good night last night if I can sleep in so late.
  I drain the cup and put it on the side.  Now it's time to meet some internet mates.  I get up and turn on my pc and sit and wait for it to creak into action, the lights coming on and the wallpaper of The Jam appearing in front of me.  Paul Weller is jumping up, holding his Rickenbacker, in his angry youthful passion.  It's an image that sticks with me.  One that is inspirational.
  I click on the internet icon and then type in “Facebook”.  The log in screen opens up.  I type in my e-mail address and password.  In a few moments, I get into the home page.  There are posts and friend requests.   The first post is from an internet friend of mine, a fellow Small Faces fan from Cornwall, telling me about his night.  He went to see a local band who, by all accounts, were sound.  It seems like this isn’t the only place where there’s a scene happening.  The Beat Revolution is a national thing which is excellent.
  I reply back to him - “Nice one mate.  Glad it was a good night.  I saw a band called The Circles the other night.  Awesome”.
  The next is from Johnny Ska.  It’s just a one liner - “Don’t forget Rentatent”.  I reply, as has been confirmed earlier, “There’s no chance of that.  Call me to arrange where to meet”.
  Then there are friend requests.  I’m particularly heartened when I see the first one.  Katie is gazing at me from the screen, smiling and looking wonderful.  There’s a message that she wants to be my friend and I think that suits me perfectly.  I accept and go into her profile.  It says that she’s in a relationship with  Andy, the bloke she was with the other night.  I’m not happy about that.  I’m not happy about that at all.  There are posts of Playboy logos and love hearts and the like scattered around everywhere.  On her profile is a link to Lilly Allen’s LDN, which I heartily approve of, with its Caribbean vibe and paean to our capital city and its attitude, groove and soul style.
  I decide to respond with a post of my own, or rather a pictorial one.  I open another window and click on “images” and type in “The Who Maximum R&B”.  In a couple of seconds, the picture I have on my wall comes up in front of me on the screen.  I save it to my photos.  Then I go into my photo editing programme, call the pic up and type on it “Maximum rhythm and soul greetings”.  Then I add it as a post on Facebook and I come out of her profile.
  I almost forgot.  There was another friend request.  It's from someone in Australia, whose page is covered with targets and Rickenbackers and northern soul logos.  I accept with the proviso that I will check him out more fully later.  I would add a comment to say hello but there really isn’t time.  The Small Faces cd is getting towards the end, which tells me I need to get myself sorted out.  I get up and make some toast.
  But before I come out of Facebook, I have two more things to do.  I find Samantha Thrills’ profile and add her a little comment - “Class show the other night.  Must check you out again“.  Then I do a search for The Circles and add them as a friend.  It's confirmed quickly, with a comment from their drummer - “Cheers for adding mate.  Our new club night’s starting soon.  Get yourself down“.  I’ll reply to that later.
  I leave the addictive world of social networking and fight the urge to go on some music forums.  But there’s one more thing to do.  I go into Google and type in “Monkey Parade“.  I’m intrigued by that old man’s comment the other night.  Sure enough, it gives me a number of sites to visit.  I check some of them out and what I find is intriguing.  It turns out there were Monkey Parades from the mid nineteenth century, right through to the early twentieth.  And they happened all over Britain.  Colchester and Manchester are two places that are mentioned.  The role of clothes is also worth noting.  There’s a quote from someone at the time, all about the fashions they all wore, the length of the trousers, the type of shoes, the style of hat.  They used to copy Hollywood in the twenties and thirties, which is not surprising as that was the only escape from the humdrum of life for most people back then.  It confirms my view that things haven’t changed much.  Get your kicks when you can.  That’s my outlook.
  Just as I’m about to turn off the computer, I hear those inimitable three chords that start The Who’s I Can’t Explain - just about my favourite tune ever.  The music is coming from the ringtone of my mobile phone.  It's Ritchie, and I don’t get time to say much to the boy.
  “Listen”, he says.  “Do you want to meet in town?  Do some shopping?“.
  “Go on then”.  And at that he’s happy.
  I turn off the pc and head off into the shower to wash the cobwebs away.


We’ve been here for about ten minutes, soaking up the end of the late Summer afternoon.  It's humid and there’s an air of expectancy about it all.  On the next table are a group of teenagers, sipping coffee and engaging in banter with some girls they’ve just met.  Me and Ritchie have been there.  Done it all.  It makes you start to feel old, how you think like that.  How life moves on.
  But you can analyse situations too much.  You need to grasp the new day.  We sip our coffees and decide that we want to accompany them with cigarettes.  But we’re not allowed that pleasure, in view of the wave of health obsession gripping Britain as we speak.  They’ve banned smoking in public places, which is a shame, in my book.  It takes away the  experience of dignified living associated with sitting in a café and drinking a cappuccino and enjoying the cool vibe of a filter tip.  Blowing smoke rings into the air.  Getting the buzz.  All right, I know it's not good for the health but there are many things like that.  Stress is the biggest killer we’re told.  But no one abolishes stressful situations.  You just have to smile and get on with it.  Pull yourself together.  Keep calm and carry on.  So why the fuss about smoking? Why do people have to interfere?
 It’s the same with drinking. We hear a lot these days about the binge drinking culture and how it’s bad for you. The real reason, it seems to me, is all about social class.  It’s those at the bottom of society who are indulging in it. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote about work being the curse of the drinking classes. No one says anything about the rich and famous drinking in private members clubs. But when the masses congregate in city centres on Friday and Saturday night, it’s binge drinking and has to be clamped down on.
  Not that I’m into all this class stuff.  Far from it.  I do believe - and applaud the fact - that I am classless.  I have no interest whatever in joining one of the little groupings that are known as social classes. Please don’t call me working class, or middle class.  I don’t want to know about either of them.  I don’t want to get held back, not allowed to do certain things,  supposed to watch what you do and what you say and what your views are.  I certainly have no interest in the lower middle class, with its lace curtain twitching and keeping up with the Joneses.
  I’ll remain in my classless state, loyal to my clothes and tunes and clubs, just like it was in the sixties - the days of  the underground guerrilla movement, as the late, great Pete Meaden put it.  Let everyone else do what they want with their class prejudices and get on with it.
  My mind’s starting to wander all over the place.  It always happens when I’ve been having fun.  And it looks like Ritchie’s the same, sitting there, staring into space.  I sip my drink and then I hear the introduction of I Can’t Explain again and I take my phone out of my pocket.
  “All right matee”, comes the voice.  Ritchie looks over at me blankly, wondering who it is.
  “All right mate.  How’s it going?”.
  “Sound.  You still on for Rentatent tonight?”.  So asks Johnny Ska.
  “Yeah, course I am”.
  “And Ritchie?”.
  “He’s with me.  I’ll ask him.  You coming tonight”.
  “Course I am”.
  “So where we meeting then”, Johnny asks.
  “Don’t mind”.
  “See you in that pub opposite the library”.
  “Sounds good”.
  And at that he’s gone.
  I tell Ritchie the plans and he gets up and takes his leave and says he needs to get himself ready.  I’m the same.  I finish my cappuccino and in few minutes I’m up and out of the café, opening my packet of cigarettes as I walk down the street to get the bus.  The crowds are starting to thin now, as I put a filter tip in my mouth and light it with my disposable lighter and breathe in the smoke and think that it tastes so good.
  I consider doing a bit more shopping but it's getting on for five thirty and everywhere will be shutting up by now and I have things to do.  So I carry on down the street, watching a couple of buskers.  There are some skateboarders around, who always seem optimistic and full of the joys of the world, not weighed down by life.
  I head onto the Square and walk towards the bus stop, when it suddenly occurs to me that I need some money for tonight.  So I stop by the bank and push my little piece of plastic in the slot and type in my PIN and in a moment I’m taking three crisp £20 notes out and putting them in my wallet.  That should be enough for a good night.
  I put the money in my pocket.  Off I go to get myself in the mood.


 They’re playing some good music.  Solid soul.  Nice and gritty.  I’m tapping my foot and sipping my ice cold lager and watching the world go by as the light starts to fade on an English Summer day.  I’m sitting in the pub opposite the library - The Dragon – and am the first here.  I’m waiting for the other two to get down.
  The record changes and it's some Stax.  With that lovely, dirty feel and rhythm that gets into you.  Mr Big Stuff by Jean Knight.  Those horns, that vocal, that thing that makes you want to dance.
  I catch a reflection of myself when the door opens.  I’m wearing a gingham button down and the bluest jeans that you ever saw, with a perfect pair of desert boots acting as the catalyst for my look.  As the rule goes, good dressing starts with the shoes.  They are what I always consider first when I decide what my look’s going to be.  And it was these that inspired me tonight.
  I sip my lager and then the door opens.  It's Johnny Ska.  He’s got a big grin on his face.
  “You ready for it?”, he asks.  “You want a drink?”.
  “Course I am.  And I’ll have a pint”.
  He heads off for the bar and I start reflecting.  Clothes are so important.  One of the crucial things in life.  Some people see them as routine, something you put on to get through the day, and nothing more.  For me it misses the point.  Clothes are a statement.  A way of saying who you are.  A key to feeling good and being the person you want to be.
  I mean, if clothes didn’t matter, why would companies insists that their employees dressed in a certain way, to a dress code?  I rest my case.
  And at that point Johnny Ska returns with the drinks at the same time as Ritchie arrives.
  “If you’d been here a couple of minutes ago….”, says Johnny, laughing.
   “Oh yes”, replies Ritchie.  I’m sitting here laughing, taking the pint and sipping it.
  “Go on”, says Johnny.  “What do you want?”.
  “The usual”.
  Nice one Ritchie.  He obviously assumes that Johnny knows what the usual is, which in fact he does because he comes back a few moments later with another pint and puts it on the table, in front of him.  Then he sits down and joins us.  All this is to a soundtrack of The Four Tops, the Clash, The Buzzcocks and many more.  He’s drinking quickly and soon finishes his pint.  He suggests that it might be time to make a move and head off on the journey down to West Bridgford.
  We get up and walk through the door and onto the street.  Ritchie and me cross the road and head off past the library towards the bus shelter.  To our surprise, Johnny’s having none of it.
  “Where you going?”, he asks.
  “Down to West Bridgford”.
  “Not on that you’re not.  I never take them”.
  We’re told in no uncertain terms that we have to get a taxi, that Johnny Ska’s gentrified lifestyle does not countenance getting on such a thing as an omnibus with the great unwashed.  I’m not going to argue.  If Johnny’s happy to put his hand in his pocket for us to be transported in some style that’s fine by me.
  We wander down to the taxi rank.  The driver at the front motions to us and we get in the first hansom cab that’s sitting there.  All three of us are in the back.  I’m on the left and I pull down the window so the Summer breeze is blowing through.  We drive through town, watching the multitudes out for a ball.  Girls in mini skirts and lads in smart shirts.  Dolled up for the week’s big event.
  We head off out of town, down towards Trent Bridge, indulging in banter and wind ups and general merry rambling.  The driver engages us in a little conversation, tells us who has been in the taxi this week - a Forest player the other day, a minor celebrity who’s in a show at one of the city’s theatres.  It’s the usual stuff.
  “So where do you want?”, he asks.
  “The Test Match”, says Johnny.
  “All right”.
  “Then again, drop us off a little up the road from there.  There’s another pub we can try”.
  In a few minutes, the driver stops outside a row of shops.  There’s a bar among them, which has a light modern feel as we walk in.  It’s more a bistro, I think.  I bet it does a good trade at lunchtime.
  It's my round and we sit for ten minutes or so with our beers.  I start thinking about Katie, wondering if she’s out with Andy tonight. I decide to put it out of my mind.  Johnny and Ritchie are talking about scooters.
  “Gonna have to get one at some point soon”, I add.  “When I’ve got some money”.
  “Don’t let that worry you”, says Johnny.  “Get a loan.  You’ll pay it back before you realise”.
  Me and debt, I have to say, do not mix.  I want to live a free life and I can’t do that if I owe money to a bank.  So I end the conversation and finish my beer and we’re off.
  It’s a short walk to The Test Match, down a street which goes by the name of Central Avenue.  The closer we get to our destination, the louder are the danceable rhythms emanating from the side of the pub.  We head through the doors which lead into a traditional quiet bar, which boasts a clientele of couples and seasoned drinkers.  We make our way to the room where the club night is being held, at the back.  Johnny knows the bloke at the door and they exchange pleasantries and he takes our money.  And we’re in.
  It’s a small function room, not too wide, when you take into account the bar on the left, but fairly long.  Nowhere To Run by Martha Reeves is blasting out of the speakers that are strategically placed for maximum decibel assault.  There’s a sharp looking Face at the far end, with a quality dark brown barnet, in a white monkey jacket, spinning the 45s.
  There are groups of people hanging round.  I assume many are from the scooter club.  All are sharp and with an abundance of attitude and style.  There are Ben Shermans and Fred Perry’s and tonic suits everywhere.
  Martha comes to the end of her tune and then it’s the High Numbers with Zoot Suit.  The lead guitar sounds emanate round the bar, courtesy of a young Pete Townshend.  We stand and sip our beer and watch and wait, for things to get moving, for people to go onto the dance floor.  It will happen.  And when it does we’ll join the throng.  Next it's Here Comes The Nice by The Small Faces.  Johnny’s standing, looking round.  He leans over and orders another round of drinks.  Then he thrusts a pint of lager at Ritchie and me.  We drain our first pints and start on the second.
  We’re back to Tamla Motown, You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes, and people start to move.  There are only a few at first, the braver ones who don’t mind stepping out onto the dance floor on their own.  We’re not ready yet.  We stand and drink and chat a little.  But conversation’s quite limited as we watch and take it all in and feel a little nervous because we don’t know anyone here, apart from Johnny.  He spots someone he knows, the bloke who runs this place, and he’s off over to the other side of the bar getting to know people.
  Me and Ritchie look at each other and I make the first move, wandering to the dance floor.  Ritchie grins and joins me.  In a few seconds the pints are drained and we’re feeling the effects of the alcohol and we’re dancing.  Inhibitions are disappearing as we get into our stride, moving our hips and letting our feet take control.  It’s time to give over to the innate instinct of the spontaneous, let the beat be your guide.
  There are plenty of others dancing now.  Next up it’s the inimitable sound of a Hammond organ and Green Onions by Booker T and The Mgs, an absolute classic.  And the pair of us get into it with the rest of the crowd.  There’s a blonde girl in a white hat giving it all she’s got, and a lad in a Ben Sherman following suit.  Then a bloke in a sharp suit suddenly climbs onto the bar and starts dancing, like Jimmy did on the balcony of the dancehall in Brighton in Quadrophenia.  People are cheering and shouting and clapping.  He keeps it up for the rest of the song and, at the end, throws himself into the crowd.  Me and Ritchie smile in appreciation.
  It carries on much like this for the rest of the night.  They run through a raft of quality sounds.  Then Johnny comes across and introduces us to a whole lot of the Faces in the club, all of whom seem as sound as the green in your wallet.  And when it closes, Ritchie and me hit the street.  Johnny has disappeared off somewhere and we wander up towards the bus stop.
  “Tell you what”, I say.
  “I don’t feel like going home yet”.
  “Nor me.
  “Shall we head to a club?”.
  “Too right”.
  We wait for a bus which doesn’t arrive.  So we take a taxi.  We’re both agreed on the quality of Rentatent and plan to be back there for the next one, which is in about a month’s time.
  The taxi weaves its way back into town.  And as I sit here, with the breeze blowing through and ruffling my hair, it hits me hard.  This is it.  The scene.  My thing.  What I feel most at home with in this world.   The whole ethos, the style, the sounds, the attitudes.   From where I’m sitting it’s the most.


 So how long have I been into all this?  What are my influences?  It started a while back, with a video that I saw on the web.  You know I mentioned that I Can’t Explain by The Who is just about my favourite tune?  There’s a video that goes with it.  I found it once, by chance, on someone’s Facebook page.  It was a promotional one for the single and contains footage from their early days, before they made it, filmed in The Goldhawk and The Marquee with all the original mods dancing and hanging out.  I particularly love the bit where a Face in a stripy, French style, Breton top falls to the floor on his back, while rolling a ciggy.  It looks like he’s playing a harmonica.  That man must be old now and I hope he’s still cool, he certainly was then.
  My interest in the scene started then.  From The Who I discovered a host of bands.  The Small Faces, The Jam, Stone Roses. And the rest.  I learnt about the British invasion of the States in the sixties, through psychedelia and glam rock in the seventies with Bolan and Bowie, and then The Clash and The Pistols and the punk revolution.   And it went on, through rave and Britpop, into the indie-mod scene of the twenty first century.
  I checked out the waves caused by the release of Is This It by The Strokes in 2001, which brought in a wave of guitar fuelled energy and attitude that had been lacking for years.  Just like the original punk movement, with the likes of The Ramones and Blondie, the impetus for change had come from America.   But both the sound and the look were picked up on in British clubs and bars and bedrooms.   There was a new outlook on the scene that couldn't be ignored by fans and bands any longer.
  It wasn't long before change was being taken forward on this side of the Atlantic.   Sometimes, you get the impression that there are disparate groups of people who have never met but have the same vision and are operating in the same way, quite independently of each other.   So it was with Up The Bracket by the Libertines in 2002.  That record was influential to British bands in my generation in the same way as My Generation or The Clash had been decades before.   Sweeping through a scene of pap - where anything radical or new was dismissed - that had emerged following the implosion of Britpop in 97.  It was a revelation that people still knew how to play like that, after the revolutionary elements of punk had seemingly been washed away.  There were the upfront guitars, raw vocals, lyrics about living on the edge in the Britain of today.  It was about now, about the concept of Albion.  Pete and Carl and the rest were like The Sex Pistols, Stone Roses and Oasis, redefining not only music but the whole outlook on life of a generation and beyond.  Those boys opened doors.
  And then, a few years later, along came four upstarts from Sheffield. with their own songs about contemporary Britain.  The Arctic Monkeys’ tunes sum up my life.  Add to that the sartorial excellence and attitude, along with the fact they used a line from Saturday Night And Sunday Morning as the title for their album, and you‘ve got a potent mix.  I never saw the band and I kick myself that I didn’t make the trip up there to catch them at the Harley in the old days.
  All of this made me take note.  The new scene inspired me.   I picked up my guitar and started to play, learning tunes from way back, giving them an up to date edge, refining the lyrics to take account of the world as it had changed.  
  I used to jam with my friends.   They would come round and we would plug in our guitars and we would blast out some tunes.   We started to write our own material, steal a guitar part or an idea and build on it.  
  It was all starting to get good.   The scene was diversifying, taking on other, more traditional influences of deep lineage.  Harringtons and Ben Shermans and crombies were back.   It was an image and a sound I had always been into and a rush of excitement gripped me.
  I started going to gigs.   I knew I was witnessing something special.   It was a scene I could be inspired, excited and moved by, taking me away from the mundanities of life, into a world where I could dream, believe anything could be real.  At one gig, a fellow fan walked past.  His grin was as big as mine.  “Just like ‘79”, he said.  “Too right”, I told him.
  That's where I met Ritchie.   It was at a gig in this little venue in town.   I stood there with a grin on my face as My Generation blasted out.   There I was, waiting to buy a t-shirt.  He was standing behind me.  We got talking.  I don’t know how, it just happened.  One minute I was queuing.  The next we were chatting.  We didn’t find out much about each other.  You never do in a situation like that.  But we’d done enough to make sure we recognised each other when we met in a club later.
  I used to jam with Ritchie.   He brought his drum round - just one - and set it up in the corner of my bedsit.   He sat on the bed and banged away while I strummed some chords on my guitar.   It was loud.   Very loud.   There were no complaints.   But I expected there to be.
  We didn’t practise long, for that reason.   We developed our tunes so that we decided before what we were going to do.   There could be a cover or a jam but we knew what our plans were for the night.  
  Music hadn’t been as healthy for years.
  I was truly digging the new breed.

Billy The Kid

  Welcome to the working week.  I’m sitting at my desk in the customer complaints department of a mail order company, whose name, for legal reasons you’ll understand, I cannot reveal.  I’m working on a letter for my boss, Mr Johnson.  It’s taking a while.  I sit and type and, when I’ve finished, I save it and turn to tell him but he’s not there.  He’s gone to speak to someone.
  I stretch and have a sip of my coffee.  It's gone cold.  I need to recharge my glass.  But, first of all, there are hunger pains in my belly.  I’ve not had anything since my Corn Flakes this morning.  So I lift myself out of my chair and head off out of the office.
  It's not a modern building, this. Well, not modern in an urban regeneration sense.  It was built in the fifties and has all the ambience of any new post war building.  I stroll down the corridor, white walls housing individual offices.  I saunter past a photocopier that’s being operated by a young girl, another casual who I’ve seen around, and push open a door onto a flight of stairs.  And who should I see coming down but my mate from Accounts, Billy The Kid.
  “All right matee”, says Billy, a big grin across his face.  “How you doing? Not seen you for a while”.  This brightens up the mood.
  “Sound mate”, I tell him.  “Went to see a good band the other night.  And went to a top club”.
  “Oh yeah?”.
  Now Billy has acquired his moniker from me on account of his immensely youthful persona.  I wouldn’t put money on him having actually started shaving.  His blonde hair is cropped and he’s sporting a button down shirt and a pair of quality strides.  He has a tendency to have access to various goods at a significantly lower price than you would normally pay in the high street.  I’ve bought cds from him, polo shirts, shoes.  Even socks.
  “Yeah, this band called The Circles.  You’d have loved them”.
  “What they like?”.
  “Nearest is The Small Faces.  But they’re more than that”.
  “Sound good”.
  “And then we went to this club called Rentatent.  At The Test Match in West Bridgford”.
  “I’ve heard of that.  Now listen”.
  “I’ve got a few pairs of Levis that my mate’s been selling.  All on the level, you know”.
  “I believe you”.
  “Look, it is.  Now give me your size and I can let you have a couple of pairs”.
  I look at him.  Grinning.  Why not?.
  “Go on then”.
  “All right.  You still seeing that bird of yours?”, he asks.
  “And which one would that be Brother Billy?”.
  “You know.  That blonde one”.
  “That’s the one”.
  “Oh yeah, from time to time.  You know, don’t want to get tied down”.
  “Oh yeah.  You’re right mate.  Tell me when you‘re going down that club again”.
  And with that, he’s off.
  I walk up the stairs with a smile on my face.  It's amazing how seeing one person can alter your mood.  I suddenly feel full of the joys of Spring.  And it’s Billy The Kid that did it.
  I get to the top of the stairs and push the door open and I’m in the canteen.  I head off to the counter, to the selection of cakes they’ve got on offer.  I decide that I’ll have a lemon one and then I walk over to the till and pay the elderly cashier who’s oblivious to what's going on.  She’s seen it all before.  Then I saunter back to the office.
  I’m not lucky enough to meet anyone as interesting as Billy The Kid on this occasion.  When I’m back at my desk, I check my text messages.  There’s one from Johnny Ska, telling me that there are some bands on tonight.  He suggests I call him, which I proceed to do.  He answers straightaway.
  “Hello”, he says.
  “All right mate”.
  “Oh, all right, how you doin?”.
  “Yeah, not so bad.  Stuck at work, you know”.
  “Wanna get yourself a proper job like me”.
  “What are you up to?”.
  “Nothing much matee.  Daytime tv.  Richard and Judy.  The Wright Stuff”.
  “Lazy sod”.
  “You know what I mean”.
  “Ha ha.  Anyway, you said phone”.
  “When? Don’t remember”.
  “You sent a text”.
  “Aaah, yeah.  Too true.  Some gigs“.
  “One tonight.  Couple of bands on.  Hard Rock Cafe.  You up for it?”.
  “I reckon I might be.  Who are they?”.
  “Can’t remember.  Supposed to be good though”.
  “Sounds all right to me then”.
  “See you tonight.  Bell at nine?”.
  “Go for it”.
  I ring off.  Then I call Ritchie.  It doesn’t take long to get through
  “All right”, he says.
  “Ritchie my good man.  How’s it going?”.
  “Join the club”.
  “What do you want?”.
  “Well, my man….”.
  “There’s someone on the other line”.
  “Oh all right.  Look, there’s some bands on at Hard Rock Cafe”.
  “Sounds a good one”.
  “See you in The Bell at nine”.

Chinese Rocks

  “So what are these bands like?”, asks Ritchie as we’re standing at the bar in The Bell.
“Don’t know.  I tried to check them out on Facebook when I got home but there wasn’t time.  Johnny reckons they’re good though”.
  “They should be all right if he likes them”.
  “So, Ritchie my good man.  Tell me about your band.  When are you playing?”.
  “It's early days yet.  I‘ll tell you in good time”.
  I smile.  This is one of town’s more traditional watering holes.  It has been here for centuries.  Some people say it’s the oldest in the city, though most agree that it loses out to a pub with the wonderful title of Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem.
  The Bell is the sort of place you’ll start a night.  It can be a refreshing change from continental café bars.  It has three rooms, two small ones at the front and a large one at the back.  And they occasionally have a jazz band on.  What jumps out at you is its authenticity.  There’s nothing fake here.
  “One thing, though”, says Ritchie.  Continuing the theme of his band.  “Get yourself down to one of our practices”.
  “Sounds good”.  I drain my pint.  “Another one here or move on?“, I ask.
  “What time is it?”.
  “Gone nine”.
  “Is Johnny joining us?”.
  “Supposed to be.  But he’s late”.
  “Let’s move on.  He can find us”.
  We put our pint glasses down on the bar and head off out.  We step onto the street and make our way across the slabs.  It's not far this time.  We go past Yates’s and Debenhams and up King Street.  As we walk up towards Hard Rock Café, the buzz of the town hits me.  There are groups of people - pretty young and very cool people - making their way to the place.  We join them and head up the steps where Johnny Ska is standing having a chat with a woman he knows.
  “Greeting Pop Pickers”, he drawls, in the style of the late Alan Freeman.  “Want a drink?”.
  “Don’t mind if we do”, replies Ritchie.
  “Come on then”, says Johnny.
  We follow him into the venue.  There’s a restaurant in front of the stage, with a bar to the left.  There are families and couples eating.
  “You just missed an acoustic performance”, says Johnny.  “He wasn’t bad.  Not at all.  Pretty soulful voice.  Said he was in some band or other, couldn’t catch who.  Did All Or Nothing by The Small Faces which was spot on”.
  “Shame we missed him”, says Ritchie”.
  “It is”, I say.  “We wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been waiting for some people”.
  “Now”, says Johnny, passing me a pint.  “That’s not quite fair my friend.  I don’t think we decided for definite we would meet”.
  I’m grinning.  “No.  Of course we didn’t”.
  He sees my face and starts laughing.  “I’ll let you off”, he says.
  He passes Ritchie his beer and I gaze round.  You can’t help looking at the pictures that adorn the place.  Jagger, Hendrix, Strummer.  Add to that the memorabilia. Keith Richards’ jacket.  Eric Clapton’s guitar.  And, by the restaurant, the most impressive piece.  A classic 1963 Vespa, with tyre on the back.  I want that Vespa.  I want that Vespa now.
  I drink my beer.  It isn’t too full in here at the moment, though people keep arriving.  We stand and chat and watch as four lads take to the stage.  The singer walks up to the microphone.  He’s fairly small, sporting a blonde mop top, with guitar slung low.
  “Hello”, he drawls perfectly.  “We’re Chinese Rocks”.
  And, at that, they launch into a set of chords as familiar as the pictures of the Rolling Stones above me.  This is John Peel’s favourite, The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks.  It's brought up to date for the early twenty first century to perfection.
  These four have something that is implicit in all the great bands.  Belief.  Total self confidence.  It oozes out of every pore of their bodies.  There‘s the bass player, medium height, lean and moody, adding a memorable “woah woah” to the chorus - a top innovation.  Then there’s the very tall second guitarist, a boy who is as accomplished on the frets as he is sartorially.  Add to that the rampant drummer, whose giving it all he’s got.
  There’s a round of applause from the assorted friends of the band and anyone who happens to be in the bar.  But they don’t wait.  They launch into one of their own tunes, which I don’t catch the title of.  How to sum them up? They have the looks of The Small Faces and the sound of Johnny Thunders.
  They run through their set, which has blown any cobwebs there might have been in the place into oblivion.  Then it’s a song with some heartfelt lyrics, a wonderful set of chords with lead guitar over the top.  And finally the singer says “this is our last song”.  It blasts through the bar, all the band on fire, as if it's their chance to make a mark.  And then it's over and the four stroll offstage as nonchalantly as they strolled on.  The attitude of the Sex Pistols.  Marvellous.
  “So what did you think of that?”, I ask Ritchie.
  “Yeah.  That was good”.
  “No doubt my friend”.
  “Your round, I think”, comes a voice.  It’s Johnny Ska.
  “All right”.
  I buy a round and pass the beers to them.
  “Cheers mate”, says Johnny.  And wanders off to talk to the woman he was with before.
  Ritchie’s started talking to an old mate. He turns to me.
  “There’s a load going clubbing”, he says.
  “Cookie Club”.
  “Sounds good to me.  Not been there for a while”.
  “Come on then”.
  “Yeah, they’re all off”.
  “I wanted to see the next band”.
  “There’ll be other chances to see them”.
  “Aw, go on then”.
  Ritchie’s friends are already on their way out.  We have most of our beers to finish, which I do slowly.  It gives me a chance to see the first part of the set.  The band’s onstage as I drink, a three piece, who launch into some classic indie rock.  There are strong guitars and quality vocals.  I lean against the bar and try to make my beer last which doesn’t work.
  “Hurry up”, says Ritchie.  “I’ve finished mine”.
  “You win”, I laugh.  I drain my pint and we’re out.
  It’s amazing how a night takes on a rhythm of its own.  I’d expected that we may go somewhere after the gig, for a drink or two, but I hadn’t thought about a club.  We walk down the steps and we’re on the street, walking down King Street, across the Square and onto the cobbles of St James Street, a narrow stamping ground of the city’s night owls.  There are bars along here, a couple of clubs, a chippy and some restaurants.  But the most significant venue is our destination The Cookie Club.
  It used to be based on the other side of the Square in Pelham Street.  It was small, on three floors.  The main bar, with a dance floor that could be called intimate, obviously used to be someone’s front room - a Lord I read somewhere - because the remains of the fireplace were still there.  The ventilation was an open window.  It was class.
  The current venue is also quality.  I’ve been a regular here for a long time.  There’s a queue, though.  Not what I’d expected.  We join the back of it.
  Tonight they’re doing a sixties night.  Beat, soul, psyche.  It says so on the poster that’s next to me.  That explains why Ritchie’s friends were keen to come, because, from their appearance, they look as if they share a style and musical sensibility with us.  One boy is wearing a bowling blazer - red, blue, green - which is perfect for the mood of the evening.  A garment like that has been on my wish list for a while.
  In a few moments we’re at the door and the bouncers look at us.  I don’t know what they’re thinking but it gives me an anxious moment.
  “Are you all together”, he asks.
  “Yes”, says Ritchie’s mate.
  He nods us in.
  We walk into the club, pay our money, and go straight to the downstairs bar.  Ritchie buys the drinks and we head off to the dance floor.  They’re playing some good music tonight.  The 60’s description definitely holds up with some classics from The Beatles, The Creation, The Rolling Stones.  The place is starting to get busy, which is good for a midweek night.
  My thoughts are starting to turn to the morning and the possibility of picking up the phone and asking for a day off.  I haven’t had a day off in a long time and, if tonight carries on as it looks like it's going to, then that may be the best option.  I imagine I might feel a little worse for wear in the morning.
  As Sympathy For The Devil finishes I leave the dance floor and drain my pint.  Helter Skelter starts to play and I look for Ritchie.  He’s chatting to a couple of girls on the other side of the bar.  I leave him to it and buy another can of Red Stripe, which is ice cold.  Some places sell it on draft but it's not the same.  There’s flavour in the stripe.
  I decide to have a look at what’s happening upstairs.  I walk through the club, push open the door and head upstairs, entering the other bar.  There’s a different sound coming through the speakers here, California Soul By Marlena Shaw.
  I head straight for the dance floor.  It's busy here as well.  Maybe the beautiful people have got the day off tomorrow.  I join them and start to dance.  If truth be told this is where I’m most at home.  Strutting to soul.
   And then I spot her.  I can’t believe it for a minute.  Maybe it's not her.  I move across the dance floor to make sure I’ve got a good look.  There’s no doubt about it.   It's her all right.  It’s Katie.
  She’s dancing on the other side of the club, a blonde mirage in a mini dress, the sort of thing Jean Shrimpton might have worn.  It’s white with black circles floating across it, kind of psychedelic, perfect for the mood of the club.
  I don’t know if the boyfriend’s with her.  From a first look he doesn’t seem to be.  I decide not to hang about.  As the record changes to Dancing In The Street, I move across to where she’s dancing.  She sees me and smiles.
  “Heyyyy, How ya doin?”, she says.  She seems pleased to see me.
  We dance, apart at first, and I move closer and she doesn’t object.  She does the same, thrusting her hips, throwing her arms around.  Each time I see her I realise what I’ve let go - and I want it back.
  It was all right when she was a single agent.  Then we could meet up and get together whenever we wanted.  But now this public school boy is on the scene, it's not so easy.  This is all rattling through my mind as we dance and get into the rhythm of the music.  And I decide that tonight I’m not going to let it go.  The record finishes and I ask her if she wants a drink.
  She nods her head and we wander over to the bar.  I buy her a vodka and replenish my supply of Red Stripe.  We’re engaging in small talk that will lead nowhere.  Then it occurs to me to make it all a little more interesting.
  “Fancy a Sambuca?”.
  “A Sambuca.  It’s a shot.  Knock it back in one, like Schnapps”.
  “Ha ha.  Sounds a laugh.  Let’s go for it”.
  I order two Sambucas from the bar and put one in front of Katie and the other in front of me.  I lift mine and she follows.
  “One, two, three”.  And we neck them.
  “Phwoaahh.  That was good”, she says.
  “Want another?”.
  “Are you trying to get me drunk?”.
  “Of course”.
  “Ha ha.  My round”.
  So she gets two more in and we knock them back.  My tongue is loose.
  “Where’s Andy tonight?”.
  “He’s away”.
  Away.  Away.  Just what I wanted to hear.  I smile.
  “And where is away?”,
  “Oh, I don’t know.  He didn’t say.  He has to go away sometimes”.
  “And so you’re having some fun?”.
  “It’s my friend’s birthday”.
  “Fair enough”.
  We stand at the bar and talk. There's something there, that I can't quite explain, that seems to draw us closer. But then, suddenly, just as it looks like she may be interested in taking things further, she pulls away.
“I shouldn't be here with you.”
 “Look”, she says.  “I’m with Andy”.  She looks down and her hair falls over my shoulder.
  “Are you?”.
  She turns and walks back down the stairs to her friends and the dance floor.
  I drain my beer and am out of the place.

Onward And Upward

Sometimes you know that things are starting to go your way.  Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how, but you do.  This is one of those moments.  I don’t care that Katie had to get back to this friends, or that I felt as if I had to leave.  All I know is that, for a second, there was something there between us, a spark.   Yes, it would have been good to have spent longer with her.  But that was unrealistic on this occasion.
  All this is going through my head as I walk down the street, through the Summer night, where the air is warm and the ravers are loud.  I look up at the clear sky, check out the stars that are shining brightly like pinpricks on a black canvas.  I don’t want to go home yet.  I don’t need to.  I don’t have to.  I want to venture forward, see what else I can find.
  There’s a place called hope in my heart.  There always has been, there always will be.  There may be setbacks in life but you’ll come though them, you always do.  I know I shouldn’t celebrate before the prize is won, but I know that Katie will be back with me soon.  It was just something about the way she acted.
  I want another drink.  I walk into a bar.  I haven’t been here before but I don’t care.  It’s dark and the music is loud, a sort of dance beat that flies around and keeps on going and hits you in the heart.  My heart is pounding from earlier and I know it has to be good.  I walk up to the bar and the boy serves me immediately. He puts a beer in front of me and I have a swig and it goes down even better than before.  I smile and pay him his money and he goes away.  It’s not too busy in here but not quiet either.  Just enough people to allow you to hang out at the bar and feel that it’s not dead but to give you space.
  I lean against the bar and watch the people.  There are groups of boys and groups of girls and couples and a few single people like me.  I drink my beer and it tastes good.  I think about Katie there with me, how it was like old times.  And my memory starts to go back.
  I was eighteen and in this club.  She was on the other side with her friends.  I spotted her first, weaved my way over, got talking.  We started seeing each other and all went well for a year or so.  Then I began to feel that I had her.  That she was mine whatever.   Then she went away and I started seeing this girl that I met one night when I was with Ritchie and that was the worst thing I did.  But things are going to sort themselves out.  I finish my beer.
  I carry on walking through town.  I’m on my way through the streets of Hockley.

The Replays

There’s a pair of check shoes.  They’re sitting in the window of Wild Clothing in Hockley.  Plimsolls.  Four black and white squares jumping out at you.  Perfect.
  I’m standing outside the shop, tucked up in a brown v-neck sweater and blue paisley Tootal.  There’s a nip in the air, a definite one.  It arrived last week.  There I was, about to leave the bedsit in the morning in just my shirt, as I have all Summer, and I decided against it.  Back I went, got a sweater, and I was off.
  It's Autumn, late September in fact, when all the colleges start coming back and the bars become lively.  You can’t beat this time of year, as far as I’m concerned.  There’s a crispness about it.  The world starts coming back to life after Summer’s languid feel.  It makes me want to get dressed up and get out there.
  These shoes, I’m itching to get them.  I can’t really afford it but that’s not a big deal.  It doesn’t stop me normally.  This shop is one I rate pretty highly.  It has a good selection of second hand and new stylish garments for a reasonable price.  I open the door and stroll in, have a word with the boy who’s selling and he brings me a pair in my size.  I try them on and they feel just right.  I have a wander round.  They’re comfortable and I can see that they look good.  I smile as I take them off and hand them over.  I say that I’ll have them and he puts them in a bag and I hand over my plastic.
  I say my goodbyes and head off out of the shop.  It's so easy, use my flexible friend and I can have whatever I need.  I know it’ll catch up with me - and it has in the past - but that doesn’t stop me using it every so often. With these shoes looking at me it would have been rude not to.
  I’m off to see Ritchie.  He’s practising today and invited me to go and watch.  He has a gig in a couple of days time and the band are getting their act together for it.  It's midweek and I decided to take another day off.  I phoned up and spoke to Jonno and he was fine about it.
  I wander through Hockley towards The Square.  The guitarist lives in Beeston and they‘re practising at his place.  I make my way to a bus stop a few streets from some of my favourite watering holes and wait.  It arrives in a few minutes.  I jump on, head upstairs and watch the world go by as the bus pulls off.  I see the city pass me by in its Autumnal colour, as we make our way along Castle Boulevard, through Dunkirk, and across to Beeston.
  What can I tell you.  Me and Katie.  Since that night at The Cookie Club, we’ve been in touch quite a lot on the world wide web, chatting, having a laugh, messaging each other.  Unfortunately Andy’s been around most of the time, which has stopped it going any further.  But things are changing.  Another prime reason for taking the day off is a Facebook message received this morning.  More of that later.
  Then there’s Johnny Ska.  I got a call from him the morning after the Chinese Rocks gig.
  “All right, matee”, he said.
  “Very well my friend”.
  “Nice one.  You should have stayed later”.
  “I thought I might”.
  “That band were good.  Very good.  A three piece.  Playing all these class indie tunes.  You missed a treat”.
  “Yeah, I’ll check them out when they play again”.
  “Anyway, mate.  I’ve got some news for you.  I’m going to be away for a bit”.
  “That bird I was talking to last night”.
  “She’s got this business down in London.  It’s a shop she’s opening.  She wants me to get down there and help her out”.
  “Well done”.
  “Thanks a lot.  It’ll get me away for a while.  Be a change.  Anyway better be off.  Catch you”.
  We’re used to Johnny’s disappearances.  He gets an offer in London and another in Liverpool, moves on and then suddenly reappears.  It’ll be like that this time.
  The bus comes to a stop and I jump off.  I cross the main road and head through a few streets.  I’ve got the address in my hand and I can hear the unmistakeable sound of a band playing.  It ricochets right down the street.
  I make my way to the house in question and bang hard on the door. No one answers.  They obviously can’t hear me.  I look through the window and there’s Ritchie banging away on the drums.  I hammer hard on the glass but there’s no answer.
  “I shouldn’t bother”, comes a voice behind me.  I turn.  There’s an old woman standing there with a basket for her shopping.
  “They’ve been going like that all day.  They won’t hear you”.
  “I’m meeting my mate”.
  “What? In there? Tell him to turn the noise down.  From me.  And everyone else who lives round here.  We‘ve had enough of it”.
  I laugh as she scuttles off.  I knock on the window again and there’s no reply.  I decide to wait patiently as the elongated tune ends and then I make myself heard.
  Ritchie opens the door.
  “All right mate”, he says.  “Come in I’ll introduce them to you”.
  The house is surprisingly tidy.  It’s not the archetypal rock band space at all.  There are a few half empty cans scattered around, I suppose, and the odd cigarette butt.  But that’s all.  Everything else is pretty much as you’d expect from a house like this.
  “Meet Mike”, says Ritchie.  “He plays guitar and sings.  And this is Stevo.  He plays bass”.
  “All right”, says Mike.  “We’ve had something of a line up change.  In fact there’s only me left from the band that was playing earlier in the Summer.  The other two left for Uni”.
  “Suppose that happens”, I say.  “On the way to the top”.
  “Too right”, says Stevo.  “That’s where we’re heading”.
  Mike laughs.  “Definitely.  Have a beer”.  He hands me one.
  “Listen to this”, says Ritchie.
  Mike launches into a guitar introduction and the others join in.  It’s a version of Biff Bang Pow by The Creation, a class sixties tune.  And they’ve added a bit of bite that is perfect for now.   It's certainly got a hard edge that suits the song hugely.
  The band look the part.  That hits me straight away.  And they could build on it.  Mike is wearing a Levis jacket and jeans, with the collar up, and his hair is down almost on his neck.  Steve has a red polo and short black hair.  And Ritchie we know and love.  They conjure up an image of indie and Britpop and all those attitudes that make up the mix.
  They’re blasting out the song.  Ritchie is banging those drums.  Mike is hammering that guitar.  He goes up to the speaker and puts the guitar in front and lets the feedback echo round the room.  It’s utter brilliance.
  And eventually they come to the end.
  “Want to join us?”, yells Mike.
  “You serious?”.
  “Why not.  We have a spare guitar”.
  I can’t turn this down.  I’ve not played for ages but I’m in the mood to do so.  I join them.
  “Take this”, says Mike.  He hands me a guitar.
  “Cheers”.  I strap it on.  It’s a Strat copy, red and white.  I give it a strum.  It sounds crisp.
  “Excellent”, says Mike.
  “Got a good sound to it.  Hadn’t we better tune up”.
  “Been done already”, says Mike.  “We like to keep them ready”.
  “No problem”, I say.  “What do you want to play? A cover or something else?”.
  “A cover.  The Kids Are All Right by The Who”.
  “Quality.  One of my favourite tunes”.
  I strum.
  “Let me play it first”, says Mike.
  “No problem”.  I watch the chords he‘s strumming.  Just how I’d play it”.
  The band start to play and I join them.  Mike goes up to the microphone and sings the first line.  It gets the adrenalin going.  It's one of my favourite tunes, always has been.  It was second on The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy album which I had as a boy.  We move into the chorus and I bang those strings so hard, give it all I’ve got.  The rest are smiling and going wild.
  I look over at Ritchie and he’s nodding his head and grinning up at me.  We get to the bridge and Mike lets some feedback come through.  I add some power chords.  I jump up and down and do a windmill like Pete Townshend which goes down well with all of them.  I’m loving it.  This is the best jam I’ve had in ages.  It’s the first time I’ve picked up a guitar for some time, actually.  I’ve got a Squire Strat, a bit like this one but green, back home at the my parents’ house.  Maybe I need to go back and pick it up.
  I can’t believe how raw it sounds.  The mix and the feedback and the whole thing.  The way Ritchie bangs those drums.  The basslines.  The hard and distorted chords.  We join in for the chorus but it doesn’t sound tuneful, it sounds like a bunch of yobs standing on a terrace.  And that is just the way I like it.  Our music, our times, our place in the world.  Fuelled by beers and ciggies and the odd something else every now and then.  In trackies and polo shirts and plimsolls.  Something the ordinaries can’t understand.
  And the song comes to an end.  It's not a planned finale but a bit of chaos and that again is what I like.  But we don’t stop at that.  Ritchie bursts into a drum roll that is so familiar.  It’s the start of Live Forever by those wonderful Gallagher boys.  I learnt this a while back and I’m pleased I did.  Mike walks up the microphone, plays a chord, and launches into the song.  I strum those strings, not too hard, not too light, just enough for the legendary tune to sound right.  We move into the solo and Mike has it note perfect.  He really is a solid guitar player, flamboyant, no bum notes.  And he’s a quality singer as well as he proves when he starts on the chorus of the song.
  Naturally we have a jam at the end of the song but it doesn’t last as long as before.  Mike sings the final set of lyrics again and we’re finished.
  “Wehey”, yells Mike.  “How good was that”.
  “Spot on”, says Stevo.
  “Yeah, I enjoyed it”, I say.  “But, for now, I need to love you and leave you“.
  “All right”, says Mike.
  “Things to do.  People to see”.
  “No problem”, says Mike.  “Come and jam with us again.  That would be superb”.
  “Yeah.  Cool”.
  “And get yourself down to our first gig”.
  “Where are you playing?”.
  “Nothing sorted yet.  But we‘ll get something set up”.
  “Nice one”.
  And at that I put the guitar back on its stand.  Finish my beer.  And I’m out of the door.
  Walking down the street, I see the old woman who was outside the house earlier.  She’s standing on the corner talking to some neighbours.
  “Fat lot of good you did”, she says.  “They were louder than ever when you joined them”.  I start to laugh.
  “Yeah”, I say.  “Rock and roll”.
  I saunter down the road, smiling to myself, with a barrage of abuse hurled at me. I don’t care.  I have bigger fish to fry.
  Let me tell you about what happened this morning.  There I am, just out of bed, sipping my tea, preparing myself to get ready to leave the bedsit.  I log onto Facebook to check overnight messages, like I always do at that time and I’m pleased to see there’s one from Katie.  She’s changed her profile picture.  This one was taken that night I saw her in The Cookie Club.
  I open up the message and expect the normal small talk.  But, to my surprise, she has a proposal.
  “Hi babes”, she says.  “Andy’s in the Smoke for the day.  How do you fancy meeting up later.  Meet you in the Square, say, about four.
  What can I say.  Weeks of chasing with nothing and now this.  A big smile crosses my face.  Her message today seems to support the theory that she’s been interested from the start but has tried to stay faithful to him.  Silly girl.  Life is for living, without regrets, in my book.  If I’ve done my bit to teach her the way to Arcadia then I’m happy about that.
  I message her back, tell her I’ll be there.  I answer a few friends requests from bands in the States and log off.
  So now you find me jumping on the first bus that comes along and enjoying the journey back into town.  I get dropped off at the bottom of the Square. I've got about ten minutes until I'm meeting her, time for some window shopping. I walk across the slabs, past the Council House.  The skateboarders are out again, with their love of life and lack of cares for the world's concerns. There are people milling around as usual, shoppers, office workers on their lunch breaks, students.
  I head across the Square, smiling loudly and strutting with meaning. I walk past the newsagents, the shop where I usually buy the NME, up to King Street. I wander into FOPP and have a browse, checking out the new releases and budget cds, along with the section on art house European cinema. It's Only Rock And Roll by The Rolling Stones is coming through the speakers.
 I check my watch. It's time, almost. I make my way to the door, step onto the street and retrace my steps. I head back down to the Square and walk across, in the direction of the area near to the fountain. Then I see her, sitting on one of the benches, staring into the distance, her long blonde hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. I stop, for a moment and look at her. Then she turns and sees me and smiles. I walk towards her.

The Disguises

It's freezing tonight.  A definite cold snap starting.  I’m sitting upstairs on the number 13 bus, heading up towards town.  There are only two other people here.  A young girl behind me with some hip hop blasting out of her headphones, and an old man in a flat cap nearer the front of the bus.
  I’m meeting Katie again.  We’re going to see a band.  It was her idea.  This afternoon, there we were, in a cafe, listening to some jazz, when she came up with the idea.  “We can go out later”, she said.  “There’s a band on in town.  You might know them.  They’re supposed to be really good.  The Disguises“.
  I jumped at the idea.  I’ve seen the band before.  It was just before Christmas a few years ago, down at the Boat Club near the Forest ground, a real venue of distinction.  A whole raft of class bands have played there over the last few decades, The Small Faces, The Pistols, John Mayall.  It really makes you feel there’s some heritage when you go to the place.  At that time, I was with Katie but she was away at college.  She was staying up there for a Christmas party and Ritchie was otherwise engaged as well.  I checked the NME gig guide and it told me that this lot were playing.  I checked them on the web and liked what I heard so decided to give it a go.  They blew me away.
  The city’s transport system delivers me to the spot at the bottom of the Square and I descend the stairs in front of my travelling companions and jump off.  I’m meeting Katie in the Soulville Steakhouse.
  I cross the Square and up onto King Street.  The Soulville Steakhouse is on the right.  I push open the door and head into the bar.  It's primarily a restaurant but with a bar area that welcomes you equally to drink as to eat, just what you need to start the night.
  Katie’s sitting at the bar waiting.  She’s wearing the finest little black number you ever did see, finished off by a complimentary pair of black, knee length boots.  A soundtrack of wonderfully uplifting northern soul is oozing gently out of the jukebox.  She’s a soul girl, Katie.  And that’s just perfect from where I’m sitting.
  “What kept you?”, she asks laughing.
  “Ah, you know.  The bus was late”.
  “Oh yes?”.
  “What do you want?”.
  “You can get me a Bud”.
  “No problem”.
  I order the drinks, settling on the usual pint for myself, and slide onto the seat next to her.
  “Thanks for this afternoon”, she says.
  “My pleasure”.  She giggles.
  “I managed to escape undetected.  Andy wasn’t back when I left.  I left him a note to say I’d gone round a friend’s house.  That should cover me”.
  “Nice one.  So there’s no deadline for getting in”.
  “Nope.  We have all night”.
  “Where’s the band on?”.
  “The Social”.
  “That’s sound”.
  The Social on Pelham Street is one of the best live music venues in the city.  It's small enough to be intimate but not so tiny as to be claustrophobic.  It has a history as well, playing host to an impressive list of bands.  I’ve witnessed a decent proportion.
  “I like your shirt”, she says.
  “Thank you”.
  “It's nice.  It suits you”.
  I made a special effort tonight, put on a pale blue button down.  I thought Katie would confirm her status as a woman of taste if I wore it.
  Same Old Song by The Four Tops starts to play.  This place has an original Wurlitzer jukebox from the sixties and it's packed with soul and Motown records which are on permanent play.   It’s one of the main reasons that all the soul boys and girls come here.
  We sit and sip our drinks.  The mood is perfect, so much so that neither of us want to make a move to see the band.  We drink up and have another, and then one more.  It's getting on for ten when I suddenly notice the time.
  “What time is the band on?”, I ask.
  “Not late I don’t think.  I suppose we’d better go”.
  So we hit the street and she takes my arm and we walk up to The Social.  There’s a small queue of students and we stand behind them and in a moment are in.  We pay the money and get our hands stamped and we’re up the stairs.  They’re on.
  We head over to the bar on the left.
  “What do you want?”, shouts Katie.
  “I’ll have a Bud”.
  She gets the beers in.  Mine is nice and cold.  Excellent.
  “Come on.  Let’s get nearer”.
  This band are just as I remember them.  They’re a stylish three piece, mop tops to a man.  All are wearing a dress code of black John Smedley, black Levis and Cuban Heels.  There’s a singer/guitarist oozing with stage presence and vocal finesse, a bass player who puts me in mind of a young Bruce Foxton, without the mullet, dancing around like the stage is his very own stamping ground, and an accomplished drummer.  They’ve started by blasting into an attack of Townshend style guitar, backed by a thundering rhythm section.  And then there are the harmonies.  Those harmonies.
  I start to move around a little as the music gets into me.  Katie’s the same, thrusting her hips in time with the rhythm.  The Disguises have got to be one of the best outfits on the scene right now, locally and more far afield.
  They finish the current tune and move into a slower one.  It showcases the quality of the harmonies and the rest of the audience agrees, judging from the reaction they get.  They run through their set, mainly more up tempo tunes, and then they finish with a cover.  The singer goes up to the microphone and strums a chord.  He launches into the opening lyrics of the old Marvin Gaye classic, I Heard It Through The Grapevine.  It takes my breath away.  It is rare that an unsigned band take a standard, rip it up and reinvent it in a new format.  But it’s a feat that these boys are achieving.
  And that’s the end of the show.  The trio leave the stage and Time For Heroes by The Libertines comes on which is just perfect for the mood of the moment.  I drain my Bud and take Katie by the hand and head off over to the bar.  Then she leans over to me, looking just a little worried.
  “Oh no”, she says, looking across the bar.  “There’s a bloke there I know.  He knows Andy.  I don’t think he’s seen us but you never know”.
  I glance over.  He looks very much the sort of bloke Andy would know.
  “Shall I disappear?”, I ask.
  “For a bit.  Go and mingle.  Maybe go downstairs and I’ll catch up with you”.
  I do as she suggests.  I want to try and catch The Disguises and have a quick chat with them about their show.  Maybe get some information about future gigs.  I suppose there’s always Facebook for that but it would be good to do it in person.
  I wander over to the other side of the bar, glancing back to see Katie leaning there, exuding effortless cool, watching them change equipment on the stage.  Then I make my way down the back stairs, past the posters and people hanging out, and into the bar below.  There are indie kids sitting round, chatting away.  The jukebox is blasting out some ska.  This bar has one of the best selections in the city.  Two quality jukeboxes in one night.  Can’t beat it.
  But my thoughts of having a chat with The Disguises are dispensed with quickly.  The bass player is outside on the street, loading up an amp into this white transit van.  No sooner has he finished, than he jumps in and they’re off.  It was a shame.  But maybe next time.
  I lean against the bar for a moment, surveying the scene.  I don’t know anyone in here.  I want to get back upstairs to see Katie.  Surely I can look anonymous and mingle with the crowd so that he doesn’t suspect that I’m with her.  I decide to leave it a minute, have a good drink of my beer, listen to the music, read the mags that are lying around on tables.  Kill time.
  I give it as long as I feel I want to.  Then I head off through the doors, up the stairs, into the bar where there’s another band onstage.  It's another three piece, the main band on tonight.  I weave my way through the crowd and get up quite close to the stage, have a look round.  I can’t see Katie anywhere.  Maybe she’s wandered off to avoid the bloke, or even gone to the ladies.
  I check the band.  They’re all sporting suits, a bit like the ones The Jam wore in their early days but with a baggier cut.  The sound is kind of original r&b, mixed with a contemporary feel that works well.  The songs are short and punchy and get you in the mood to get your feet moving, which of course I do.
  I stand and watch the set.  And near the end, I feel a tap on my shoulder.
  “All right babes.  It's fine he’s gone”.  It's Katie.
  “Arrittee.  Where you been?”.
  “I had to leave the place.  He was here and was hanging around and I thought he was going to spot me.  So I went for a walk.  A quick drink in that pub we were in earlier and back”.
  “I thought that he’d be gone by the time I got back and he was.  Anyway, you could have met me there”.
  “I didn’t know you were there”.
  I thought she’d been forced to go for the night.
  “I did text you”, she says.
  “Did you?”.
  “Check it”.
  I take my phone out and have a look at the messages.  Sure enough, she sent me one, telling me where she was and asking if I wanted to join her.  I burst out laughing and put the phone back in my pocket.
  “So what now?”, she asks, as I pull her towards me.
  “Don’t mind”.
  “Nor me”.
  “Yes? “.
  “I suppose we could go back to my bedsit for a night cap”.  I hear myself say it without thinking.  A smile crosses her face, wickedly.
  “I thought you’d never ask”.
  And in a few seconds, we‘re on the street, weaving through the Monkey Parade, calling a taxi.