The hire van was old and unwieldy. Every time we turned a corner, it shook, and bounced. I was in the front, with Julian, who was driving. Ian had contrived to make a nest out of some old magazines, and had wedged himself between two amplifiers. Colin and Clive were fielding instruments and instrument boxes. Occasionally, Julian would turn too sharply, pulling both hands over to the left or right, and then he'd check in his rear-view mirror and laugh. I looked at him.
"What now?", he said.
I shook my head.
"It's fun", he said.
He opened the window slightly and lit a cigarette. For a while, we were both isolated from each other by the noise of the traffic outside. We were driving down the North Circular, past tyre showrooms and furniture warehouses. The lights at the side of the road were like a continual flash photo. We accelerated past an old Reliant then sat at the lights while it caught up with us. There were five parallel scratch-marks on its side; it looked like someone had raked their nails along it. The driver was slumped into a surly knot.
"Look", Julian said. "It's you."
"Well, is it any wonder?"
He pulled away, sharply.
"I wasn't talking about the driver", he said.
He weaved into a garage. The light in here was harsher still. While paying, I bought a fistful of crisp packets. I flung them in the back, from the front seat, then threw one at Julian. He raced us out of the concourse and quickly on to the road. The snare drum rolled across the floor and Colin had to catch it, one-handed.
"Watch it!", he shouted.
"Julian", I said, "slow down."
"I have slowed down."
"For fuck's sake. You haven't even got a licence."
He flicked his cigarette outside then wound the window up. He made a continuous gesture out of it. He looked carefully up into the rear view mirror, like he was acting it out for me. It was the kind of thing you did when you were drunk. I hoped he wasn't. The tape recorder had reduced my tape – our warm-up tape – into a turgid mulch. Sighing, I took it out and put it in my pocket. Dreading having to do it, I made a show of rubbing my hands together.
"Right then", I said. "Ian?"
"Yo", he said, unenthusiastically.
He had braced his legs against the spare tyre and was holding on to the floor.
"Who have we got so far?"
I was having to shout it. The van did another sudden lurch and I grabbed on to the back of the seat. Ian looked briefly seasick.
"Who have we what?", he said.
"Got. Who have we got?"
He looked pained, and bewildered.
"Cos Sting's the driver, right?"
I was soldiering on. I felt as though I was responsible, somehow; that I had to inject a certain amount of levity.
"We both agree on that", I said.
"Oh gawd", said Julian.
"Not this again."
"What do you mean 'again'?"
"This is your party piece, isn't it? You wheel it out. The one thing you ever say. There's Sting, then there's. Um.”
He was counting them off on his fingers.
There was a pause. He was straining off into the distance. I said,
"That doesn't prove anything."
He made another sudden turn.
"I don't remember your name half the time."
Clive had lifted his head. Guardedly – he was fending off an amplifier and a guitar case – he tried to shape a version of his usual eager look.
"What's this?", he said.
Julian pointed at me.
"Simon's game", he said. "He's obviously made poor Ian play it. You have to."
He turned to me, disingenuously.
"What is it again?"
He knew exactly how to play it.
"You have to fill a bus", I said, to Clive, ignoring Julian. "Sting drives. And then you have to find twelve bands or singers or whatever that you'd push over a cliff."
"Well, Jesus, he's so ponderous."
"And good-looking", Julian said.
"He should be modelling clothes."
"Simon thinks that everybody that writes songs should look like he does."
He was lighting another cigarette. The smoke made an exotic boa that unravelled on the seat behind him.
"Division of labour", he said. "It's simple: the ugly ones get to write; the pretty ones get to sing."
"And sometimes barely even that", I said.
"I'll scratch your eyes out."
I shook my head.
"'Hey Jude'", I said. "He wrote 'Hey Jude'."
"That was thirty years ago."
I was still shaking my head.
"And 'Penny Lane'. And."
"See?", said Julian. "It's Simon's game."
He was peering out of the window, at the motorway. His voice and face were coldly dismissive. It had been creeping up on him for weeks; a gradual paralysis.
"It's me", Debbie had said.
"Don't be ridiculous."
"It is. He calls me Yoko."
"He fucking isn't. He gets that look."
She had leant up on one elbow and was looking down seriously into my face.
"He sneers at you."
"I wouldn't worry."
"No", she said, "he sneers at you."
She prodded me in the chest. Her nails were a dull silver and her eyelids were dark blue. She'd bleached her hair the day before; it was bright white again. Her lips were thin, but they were vividly painted. It was like she was reminding me that she was female.
"You wait on him", she said. "You bring him dinner on a fucking tray."
"He can't get things to work. He breaks things. He's a child."
She made a sharp, involuntary noise.
"He is. He says so himself."
"I bet he does."
"Plus, let's be honest, he's my meal ticket."
"How can he be? You pay for everything."
"He's gorgeous. He's going to be huge."
"Listen: Clive's better looking than Julian."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Julian looks like Sasha. The same cheekbones. The way he sits there, expecting to be waited on. The way he sneers at you, like."
"Johnny Rotten", Ian said.
"He's a cartoon."
"He never used to be", I said.
Still concentrating on the road, he held out his hand for more crisps. I dumped a packet in his hand.
"Lady Muck", Debbie said.
He looked down, briefly, and then passed them back to me.
"He doesn't even say thank you."
"I'll grant you he's a little camp."
"But in all the years."
"You're such a twat sometimes."
"Don't get me wrong", I said. "I'm grateful. I am. I think you're the only person I've ever met who so much as claims she doesn't fancy him.”
I put my hand over her mouth.
I peeled it away, slowly.
"He's not after me. I know him. He plays it up. He thinks it's winning or stylish or whatever. Trust me: he only ever goes with girls."
"My God, you're so small town."
"Fuck off will you."
"He only ever goes with girls when you're around. He doesn't want you to see it."
"Telling me about that girl you liked; that Sam."
"He was the one that slept with her.”
"He'd sleep with me if he thought I'd let him. I'm sorry Simon but he would. And then he'd run straight to you and tell you all about it. He only wants you for."
"Himself", said Julian.
He was talking to Ian, Colin and Clive. The roar of the van had obscured the rest of the sentence while I had been struggling with the crisp packet; his voice seemed to be coming from far away. I leaned forward a little.
"I said", he said, not looking at me, "you might as well play with yourself."
"The game", Clive said. "He's talking about the game."
Julian was making a great show of concentrating on the road.
"I didn't disqualify it", I said.
I had given up on him; I was talking to Ian now and, by extension, to Colin and Clive.
"He's having a go", Ian said. He was excusing me. Explaining me, partly. I'd been expecting camaraderie. I had been looking forward to it.
"Alright; alright", I said. "Forget it."
I waved at them.
I hummed a note, and slowly – gradually – gathered their voices into a four-part harmony. It was something I did sometimes, in lieu of conversation. Just for a moment, everything was fine. Better than fine: Ian and I were smiling at each other. But then I said "Clive" and I was hefting my hand upwards, trying to bring him slightly higher. Ian started laughing.
"Jesus Simon", he said.
Julian was smiling.
"'Uneasy lies the head'", he said, to no-one in particular.
Where had he got that from?
"Watch him", said Debbie. "That's all I'm saying."
"I thought you said."
"Just because he wants you to himself it doesn't mean that you should trust him."
"But we're friends."
"It’s half and half; it always has been."
The journey took two hours. We had been silent for most of it. The headlights were now picking out hedgerows and tall trees. There were glimpses of ploughed land; of fence posts and ambiguous stretches of water. We turned and drove across a bridge, and then another, smaller bridge – it made your stomach lurch. Just beyond it, to the left and barely visible, there was a weir where water was ravelling and unravelling, like skeins of wool.
"We used to skinny-dip", I said. "We'd steal each other's clothes. You had to lie on them. We used to have to walk home sopping wet sometimes."
Silence. After a moment, Julian said,
"The pub. Where is it?"
"Down here. Past the war memorial. That's it. Turn here."
The Happy Yeoman was a sixteenth century coaching inn. Its cross beams looked like burnt matchsticks. There was a wooden arch that led down to a car park, and I had to jump out to guide Julian through it. It was September, and the cold felt unexpected; I found that I was feeling doubly excluded, both from the warmth in the van and from the people inside it. I gestured Julian towards a space but he ignored me, bumping right next to the door that led into the hall behind the pub. Almost before he stopped, I was yanking the doors open.
"Right", I said.
I took refuge in the habits of command. I got Ian to pass me an amplifier and a guitar case; my guitar case, with its polished locks and leather handle. Ian had a keyboard and Colin and Clive were sorting out the boxes that the drums came in. Julian dropped daintily from the driver's seat and slid the side-door open. He picked up a microphone and a microphone stand.
"Jesus", I said.
The door was locked. I gestured at them – stay there, I meant to say; I won't be long – and made my way around the front. I entered the warmth and fug of the bar. There wasn't any music, just muttered conversation, and the room glowed slightly with the red of the carriage lamps. Desmond was standing behind the real ale pumps.
He held his arms out.
He was my age, but he was already beginning to look like a pub landlord. He was developing a pompadour. Ash had collected on his shoulder and his face was a bright red; it looked squashed and slapped around, like it was made of clay that hadn't dried. When he spoke, it was with the upward-lilting tone of a commercial DJ.
"Alright, you old bugger?"
He clapped me on the shoulder.
"Long time no see, you miserable sod."
I smiled, stiffly. Up close, his face seemed to have bloomed.
"Go on: what'll you have?"
"No, nothing yet. We need."
"Go oooon. A swifty."
"Um. A lemonade. Thanks."
"I'll be rubbish if I start drinking now. And the others are waiting for me."
"Let 'em wait. There are. Go on: neck that."
He'd added a double vodka. He waved away my offer of payment.
"I'm expecting big things", he said.
He bent over to drop the key in my hand. His chins lapped at his dicky bow.
"I've been shouting about you, MC stylee."
He beamed – a florid piece of self-advertisement - then banged our glasses together. He seemed to have made up a past for us. I hadn't known Desmond at school. I'd seen him, at the bus stop. Desmond's father ran The Hand On Heart, however. I went to say thanks but he was already moving across the bar, towards another customer. I quickly finished my drink. Outside, they'd got back in the van. After that journey down, they all looked furtive and conspiratorial. The vodka had made me more confident. I banged on the window, shouting "Come on!", then led the way inside. There was a cloakroom, a bar and then the hall. The floor was polished wood. The stage was directly in front of us and for a moment I stood looking at it, feeling – or willing myself to feel – a sense of significance. I wanted to forget the tensions in the van.
"First gig, guys", I said, but they were already at work, staking out their space and bringing in the other equipment. Unwilling to let the moment go, I slowly climbed the steps that led up to the stage then paced the length of it. Stopping, I stared out at the hall.
"Well", I said, putting my hands on my hips, "this is it."
But still nobody said anything. The alcohol was already failing me; I felt clumsy and slow, now, rather than expansive. I watched them bring the rest of the kit in. Stumbling slightly, I reached down for my guitar case and extracted my guitar. It was a new, and very beautiful, Les Paul. The body was burgundy and the fingerboard was cream. You could see yourself in it; if you leant down you were suddenly there, in the distance. I plugged myself in. Colin was testing the tightness of his skins, hammering at them like he was in a workshop. Clive was clumsily tuning his bass and Ian was testing out new sounds: a dog bark here; helicopter blades there. It was Julian's turn to pace now. He was holding the microphone and looking around him nervously.
"It's a barn", he said.
"Oh, you're OK. You just have to stand there, don't you? Looking sullen and unreachable. It's hardly a stretch."
"It's going to be fine."
"Why couldn't you get us a gig in London like a normal band?"
"We've gone through this. We need to try it out."
"We're not a fucking musical."
He'd wheeled around to face me.
"No, wait: I tell a lie. We are a fucking musical. We're like an end-of-term review, aren't we? Jazz. Buddy Holly. Aztec Camera. Phil fucking Spector. And they're all so slow."
"This is just nerves."
"They're going to kill us."
He looked like his mother had, that morning. I said,
"Alright. Come on."
I started strumming the chords to "Louise May". I looked at him expectantly.
"I hate this song", he said.
"You don't. Come on."
I'd written it a couple of months ago. I'd named it after Louise, the only other girl I'd slept with. Afterwards, Julian had told me that she'd sleep with anyone, and I believed him. Her middle name was May and so it became an in-joke between us - "Well, Louise may" – whenever I felt his sexual success too keenly. The tone was new, though; it was upbeat and optimistic. It was about Debbie, or, rather, about the feeling that I sometimes had around Debbie, or that I felt that I should have because of Debbie. I didn't go into specifics; it sounded like it could have been about anybody. But Julian knew. If it hadn't been for the tune – for the opportunity that it afforded him to project – he would never have sung it.
Clive started to join in. He was slightly flat, but I would sort it out later. Colin tapped an accompanying rhythm and Ian switched his keyboard on to "piano", providing a series of musical exclamation marks. It was mid-paced; Julian was always trying to get me to speed it up, but I wouldn't. I thought it sounded stately. He closed his eyes. He was relaxing into his voice. I'd organised a loan: we had new amplifiers, now, and a couple of foldback speakers, pointing towards us and away from the audience, so that we could hear ourselves almost perfectly. We all seemed, at that moment – the bass and guitar; the keyboards and the drums and Julian's voice – to be breathing together. I thought: it's going to be alright. We ended it precisely at the same time.
"See?", I said. "That doesn't sound like anything."
"It doesn't sound like anything at all", said Julian.
Desmond was watching us. He was giving us a round of applause.
He came waddling towards us, and I stepped down to meet him. He seemed to be surrounded by the smell of drink. He made a gun out of his finger and pretended to shoot it at me.
"You like it?"
But he didn't look entirely sure. Julian was beside me, holding out his hand.
"Julian", he said.
Why did he feel the need to seduce everybody? He was smiling but then, slowly – reluctantly - he turned to me.
"Sounds fine", he said.
"Yes, but we've still got to."
"You've got to."
He turned to Desmond.
"There is a bar, is there?"
Desmond opened the door that led back through the kitchen. Pointing the way, he touched Julian on the shoulder, lightly, like he was checking he was really there. Desmond watched him go then turned to me and rubbed his hands.
"You need someone?"
I put him behind the microphone so that we could do the sound check. He vamped some operatic trills and bass notes, but then he did what he was told, counting from one to five slowly and carefully. We had to balance everything. There wasn't a mixing desk, and, anyway, I'd never done it in a hall before, but I was careful to look confident. There was an echo that nibbled at the edges of Desmond's voice. Ian's keyboard sounded like it was slap bang in the middle of things, like we were having to play around it, but then, when we adjusted it, it sounded faint; superfluous. By the time we'd finished it was eight o'clock. Two girls had set a table up by the door. We left the amplifiers on – they gave off an ambient hum, like we were back in the van again – and Desmond took us back through the kitchen. Julian was up at the bar, talking to the regulars. He'd toned it down again and looked both serious and attentive. Even so, he was the centre of attention. He had galvanised them into a knot of admirers. They were interchangeable, it seemed to me, just like the drinkers in The Blue Boy. Their ruddy faces looked like they had been cooked, inexpertly. What were they? Farmers? Farmworkers? Julian seemed to know. I was briefly irritated: this was my village, after all. One of them was talking about his banjo, about how he'd always wanted to do something with it. Another one leaned across and, leering, said,
"Is that why you were always greasing 'un?"
There was general laughter. Desmond was dispensing free drinks. He stopped, and mimed how he used to mime in front of the mirror. He was playing it up for Julian. Julian pulled a cigarette out and Desmond did a slow sign of the cross, searching for something to light it with.
"I love music", he was saying. "Love it."
Julian was nodding.
"Oh yes", he said. "It's such a force."
He had put his thumb and forefinger together.
"It can be so."
He lifted his hand up and down, rhythmically, like he was conducting something. At last he said,
I was on the outskirts, squeezed up against the corner of the bar. Dried beer and scotch had made a varnish and I had to be careful where I put my hands. The vodka had receded, and I was left with a feeling of flatness, as well as an ache above my eye. I was pissed off with everybody. With Desmond, huddled close to Julian, protecting his flame against …what precisely? With Colin and Clive and Ian, all sitting there smiling happily. With all the regulars. The banjo man was tiny; he had to hoick his trousers up to stop them falling down. I made an effort. I leaned across and said to Julian,
"I've heard that before, haven't I?"
I'd meant it as a joke but I could see, immediately, that I'd said the wrong thing. Even before I'd said it – when I was leaning over, trying to get his attention – I could see the life draining out of his face.
"Oh, it'll be one of yours, will it?"
He half-turned back to Desmond, who was bending down to get him a packet of crisps. Julian shook his head.
"You better not. You better get Simon to taste them first."
"I didn't mean."
But Colin was laughing. Clive was grinning, a little uncertainly. It struck me that we had never really talked; that I had no idea what either of them were thinking. Clive was a Team Leader or a Co-ordinator; something like that. He claimed he had a girlfriend, but we had never seen her. Occasionally he'd sport a Warner Brothers tie – a violent blue dotted about with Porky Pigs – to signify a sense of fun. He was eager to please, which, as far as I knew, was all he was. I had Colin down, meanwhile, as being reliable; he had an even temper, he was a solid drummer and that was that. I'd made them into archetypes. Ian was different. When he got up I followed him to the toilet. Stepping inside, I watched him for a moment then I clapped my hands together.
"Right", I said.
There was a faint echo in here as well. It was a little like after the vodka; I could feel my voice resounding, slightly. He didn't seem to have heard. I tried again.
"What's going on?"
"Are we playing a game again?"
He was still looking determinedly in front of him. Steam was climbing up the urinal wall.
He turned, and started washing his hands. Sighing, he lowered his head a little. He spoke carefully into the sink.
He pulled the roller towel towards him, twice. He turned around and looked at me unhappily.
"They need a little. Um."
"Come on. Spit it out."
"Air", I said, tonelessly.
"You know what they're like."
"I don't. No, really, I mean it, I don't. I only talk to you these days."
"It's caviar to the general, Simon."
He was trying to talk lightly. Despite the hours we'd spent together, his voice had always seemed at one remove. His whole demeanour told you that he was unwilling to commit his whole intelligence. He would be off, one day, after university, to be an academic, or a journalist – something, anyway. Now he was struggling a little.
"What is?", I said.
He had stepped backwards slightly. I was crowding him, beginning to get aggressive. He was disengaging himself.
"The songs", he said. "Nice as they are, obviously."
"I thought you liked my songs?"
"We do. We all do. I do."
He sighed. Slowly, he said,
"They feel. The band feel."
He was looking past me, up at the chain and the pockmarked cistern. At last, he said,
"Don't get me wrong: you do a good job. You write the songs; you arrange the songs; you do the set list; you get the gigs. The gig, rather."
"Well, that's sort of the problem?"
He'd spoken lightly, but then he stopped and waited, watching me. His eyes were a dull green but I had seen them come alive when he'd found something amusing, or exciting; when we'd found two or three notes that sparked, or fought, together. They were a counter-weight to his voice. Whatever he said, or failed to say, his eyes told you a different story. He loved my songs, I knew he did, or, at the very least, loved playing them. Now I could see he saw I understood. He said,
"They want to be a band."
"Instead of what?"
Then, suddenly, I was incensed.
"Oh, this is ridiculous. You can fuck off, all of you."
Ian went to throw his hands up.
"No, you can. You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me."
"Keep your voice down."
"Keep your own voice down. What else are we going to do, covers? You want us just to muddle along until we all come up with something?”
"Well that's partly the."
"You can forget it. Alright? I'm going to go back out there and I'm going to check all the amplifiers, like I always do, and then I'm going to tune up Clive's bass, just like I always do, and I'm going to make sure Julian's microphone is turned on. Is that OK? You want to do it yourself?"
He didn't say anything.
I wheeled around and banged the toilet door open. The corridor led two ways, back into the bar or through the kitchen. There was no way I was going to go back in the bar. I marched into the hall and up onto the stage. I did the things I told Ian I'd do. Gradually, I became aware of how rapid my breathing was. Trying hard to slow it down, I felt as though I was re-entering my self from very far away; as though my body was showing me just how I had behaved. I became aware, too, of the music that they were playing over the sound system: Pink Floyd and Barclay James Harvest. There were already a few people standing about, but they were isolated into separate groups. It sounded like each song was working hard to try and define the space around it, but they were the wrong songs. Someone with long hair was shaking his head and yodelling along. Scowling at him, I checked my watch then dug into my pocket. I walked up to the bar.
"Where's your sound system?"
The barman was stooped over the glass machine. He had opened the door and steam was all around him, making him look like he had just materialised. He was middle aged; his face was glazed, like a toffee apple. He made a placatory gesture. Leaning closer, and enunciating carefully, I said,
"The sound system?"
He acted like he hadn't heard me.
"Listen", I said, "I'll go behind there if I have to."
He stood up, slowly. He put both hands on his hips. He looked like the banjo player; like an ageing jockey. He had a cowlick on his forehead.
"Your problem being?"
"My problem being? The music. My problem being the music. I'm the band. We're on in forty minutes. Put this on, please."
I gave him my tape. He turned it over in his hands.
"And this is?"
I pretended to butt the bar with my head. I had allowed the music – it was Alan Parsons now; a lush and nasal songoid, soaked in strings – to become a symbol for the way that I was feeling. I didn't want to go back and have it out with the band. This would have to do.
"This", I said, "is a tape."
Roit. That same voice, like the voices in the bar, eeking out its vowels.
"I want you to take that tape."
I was speaking as slowly as he was, as though he was an idiot.
"Take off the other tape. And put. That. On."
"I'm sorry", he said.
He tried to give it back to me.
"I can't do that."
I wouldn't take it. I put both hands up, like Ian had.
"We don't do other people's tapes", he was saying, or something like it because I was also saying,
"I'm the band. You're deliberately not understanding me. I'm the band and that's my tape. Now put it on."
"No", he said. "Sorry."
I was, I thought, ready to hit him. I was leaning way over the bar. Then I could feel a hand on my shoulder.
"It's alright, Ken", said Desmond.
His voice had changed. It sounded authoritative, like an adult's.
"You can put it on."
He shook me, both hands on my shoulders.
"First night nerves", he said.
Ken stared at me for a moment and then walked slowly away. Desmond was steering me in the other direction. His voice was lilting upwards again.
"That's right. You sit there, slugger. Go on. Thaaat's it. Good lad. Stay there, I'll get you a drink."
He'd ushered me to a table, like a card table, that was at the back of the room. He went behind the bar and poured another double vodka. He'd set a pint glass underneath the Guinness tap and he kept looking back and forwards, like he was balancing plates. He threw a short glass in the air and caught it, one-handed. He poured a scotch into it, then downed it. Wheeling round, he stopped the Guinness, just in time. He didn't pay. Putting the vodka in front of me, he said,
"I've told the boys. Make show."
I didn't know what he meant. My tape had come on, and I could feel the difference down the back of my neck. He went to say something else but then, all of a sudden, my parents were upon us. It was expected that I get up and hug them; we always did. I went to introduce them but Desmond waved vaguely at me, and disappeared. I showed them the stage, and the equipment. I didn't know where to put them. Desmond had reappeared, at the door of the hall, and was ushering people in. There wasn't anybody that I recognised, nor had I expected that there would be. Ian and Clive and Colin had come in and they were setting up; there was a brief roll on the drums, and a muffled fart from the organ. Clive was plucking his bass methodically and holding his ear to it, like that would make a difference. I placed my parents at the back, as far away as I could. I stepped on to the stage and hauled my strap around my neck. The guitar felt heavy tonight and I fumbled with the lead, making it buzz angrily as I failed to make a connection. I was nervous, but I didn't speak to the others. As yet there wasn't any sign of Julian. Desmond had already started to dim the lights. At first, I couldn't see anything beyond the stage. I began, gradually, to make out heads and shoulders up by the bar but I was careful not to look too hard. The tape had stopped. I went to nod at Ian, but he had already started. There was still no sign of Julian. Two, three minutes – I was getting more and more nervous – and then I saw a patch of darkness slide across the floor and begin to resolve itself. Julian sidled up the steps. I could see that he wasn't happy; that he didn't like having to make his way across the stage. Ian was hammering at the keys. Julian stood for a moment and pretended to look out into the audience. Then he flickered his fingers. Ian hit the appropriate chord.
It wasn't a success. There were about thirty people in the hall, but there was only the suggestion of applause. I had planned it so that we segued into "Too Much In Love" – it was knowingly ostentatious, now, with Ian splashing up and down the keyboard – and then into "Without Love". Still nothing. There was a constant murmur; people had turned their backs to us, and were talking to each other at the bar. Julian was studying the room. He went to say something, then stopped. He tried to throw himself into "God Bless America" but he had lost confidence. His voice was beginning to fade; it sounded strained and hammy. He ran his hands through his hair, and his leg had begun to jitter slightly. At the end of the song there was the same lack of response. People were trying to be encouraging – some were applauding us but most of them had turned away.
Still. I started up the chords for "Louise May". In those days, I kicked it off. After a while I noticed that nobody was joining in. I looked at Colin, who was looking at Julian. Julian nodded, and, for a moment, it was like we were badly dubbed; I was flailing on my own, uncertain of what was happening, until I realised that Colin was trying to speed me up. I held firm, but then Ian began to follow Colin. I looked over at Clive, but he wouldn't look at me. Dutifully, his head bowed over the strings, he followed Colin's lead. I was forced to catch up with them. The beat wasn't only faster, it was more regular; more literal. It was martial, almost. Julian swung his hips. I'd never seen him do that before. I stared at him – I wanted someone to acknowledge what was happening – but he wouldn't look at me. Out at the edges of the hall, someone was dancing. Ian had changed the setting on his keyboard, and now he was trumpeting behind us like we were a soul review. We stopped, almost together. There was a respectable round of applause. Nothing special, but it had definitely got louder. Julian did a courtly bow.
"Thank you", he said, demurely.
He gestured at the band, magnanimously, including all of us. I stood a little to one side. I watched him carefully, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Tom Raymond has already written two novels, The Conquest of the Incas and Rough Music.