SHARP SHOES: PRE-GIG, WINTER 1976
Wake up. It's Saturday. Cold snap. I'm under attack in bed. One deadly assailant is Superman, the other El Zorro. Drawn-out battle. I become Blofeld. "Zo, Meesterr Bornd..." I begin. THUD! A four year-old fist lands on my stomach, while a seven year-old arm gets me in a headlock. Blofeld always comes in for extra punishment. At this rate I won't make it to my escape pod.
Into chilly town. Rock City music shop. Ask about the keyboard I'm getting repaired. "It'll be ready for ya on Tuesday." Buy three sets of Fender Bullet strings. Lust after Gibson 335 and Gretsch Chet Atkins guitars. Leaden skies outside. "Aye, but it's too cold for snow..." someone says.
Four o'clock. Dark already. Agent Jimmy the King should be ringing about the gig. Can't relax or do anything. If the gig's local, there's plenty of time. If it's Cumbria or North Yorkshire, we need to be ready to leave.
The phone: it's Jimmy.
"Right. Liverton Mines Social Club. Just past Middlesbrough." Write down the address and phone number. "Seven thirty, no-pick-up." That means no cash-in-hand; the club pays the agent who then pays us.
In Jimmy the King's mental atlas, all long-distance gigs south of Teesside are 'just past Middlesbrough'. Those on the north-west coast, the Lake District or in southern Scotland are 'just past Carlisle.' My road atlas shows that Liverton Mines is a village near the North Yorkshire coast, between Saltburn by-the-Sea and Loftus. The ironstone mine closed in 1923.
Get ready. Black drainpipe trousers, black shirt, black Cuban-heeled winklepicker boots, bootlace tie, black leather bike jacket with Velocette, Ace Cafe, 'Keep Music Live' and 'Rock Against Racism' badges. I'm ready.
"You've got your Sharp Shoes on!" accuses competitive four year-old. He has a small 'On The Waterfront' wind-cheater jacket and is already convinced that only HE can be the Marlon Brando of the family. "You look STUPID! What about our story?"
Bedtime story: "...and then, just before the tide could cut the stranded holidaymakers off, a speck appeared in the sky. It grew larger and soon the shivering group could see it was a helicopter. They waved frantically. As the helicopter approached, they saw that an older boy with fair hair was at the controls, whilst a younger boy with dark hair was getting ready to lower a winch to rescue the trapped famil..." BEEP BEEP! "...trapped family. That's the band...so the younger boy winched up the grateful family just as the cold waves were lapping around their ankles, and his big brother piloted the helicopter expertly through the gathering wind to safety, carrying out a perfect landing just before the worst storm in the island's history broke out over the bay." BEEEEP! BEEPBEEP!! "Gotta go boys, that's Antoine with the van. Settle down now."
"WAIT! How come HE'S always the pilot? It's not fair!" The four year-old.
"He's older, so he's got his pilot's licence. You're the winch-man, you do the actual rescue. If you weren't there, he could only fly over the people and look at them. It's YOU who does the actual rescue."
"SEE? I'M the Actual Rescue Man, NOT you! So HA!"
"But it's me who's flying the helicopter. You couldn't get there to rescue them on your own, so HA! back." The quiet authority in the seven year-old's voice enrages the younger boy.
"NOT FAIR! Tell him, Dad!"
"Alright boys, I'm off now. You need to be calming down..."
"Lone Ranger song! Lone Ranger!"
"Ok, but quickly." Grab acoustic guitar. "Ready? Go! Diddle-dee-diddle-dee-diddle-dee-dee-dee..." The four year-old arrives at the end of the song well ahead of the rest of us. And we were fast.
Strat? Check. Two by twelve combo? Check. Lead bag? Check. Plecs? Check. Strings? Check. Map book? Check. Set lists? Check. Money? Check. House key? Check. BEEEEEEP! BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEEEP!
"Martin, they're here!"
"I know, I'm off. Bye."
"But you haven't eaten!"
"Yeah, give me a bag of crisps, I'll get some fish'n'chips after the gig. Thanks. Bye."
"Don't wake us all up when you come in tonight."
"Is your real name 'Diesel' in real life?"
"Only in the band. G'night boys, settle down now."
Carry heavy combo downstairs. Load everything Into the van. Ex-Northumberland Ambulance Service Austin-Morris EA. It's cold in the cab. Antoine (tnr sax, perc, hmnca) is wearing his Mexican Poncho. Mad Dog Lupé (bass gtr) is sitting on Antoine's black wooden saxophone case. Antoine revs the engine. "Where to?"
"It's miles out on the North York Moors. We can pick up Carlos and Sandie on the way; just head for the A19."
Pull out of Tavistock Road. Blend with Saturday evening traffic flowing down Osborne Road into the city. Sodium street lights make everything yellow.
Now Carlos (gtr/vocs) and Sandie (dms), the Sunderland Superstars, are in the back with Lindolph (gtr) and Ken the Lighting Man (blb) who always rides in from the snowy Consett hills on his MZ motorbike.
Out in wintry countryside, A19 southbound. Bands going north from Teesside, North Yorkshire, County Durham; flashing Transit van headlights at us from opposite lane. Their gigs will be in Newcastle. Clubland rule: Teesside bands play Newcastle clubs and Newcastle bands play Teesside clubs. We all burn fuel and slog through the night several times a week, year upon year, so that Concert Chairmen can announce, "Ladies an Gemmun! Put ya hands together for a great act who've come ALL THE WAY FROM....to play for us tonight!"
Exploratory snow flakes hit the windscreen. From his hard wooden perch, Mad Dog intones in a Robert Stack voice, "A dark night. A lonely road. A band, too long without sex..." We laugh, grimly. The cab heater packs up.