Life: April 2004 Archives

As a manger of a popular beat combo there are some things that you expect to experience. They range from band line-up reshuffles and arguments about song credits to trashing of B&B rooms and Little Chef all day breakfasts at 1am in the night. I was never really prepared for what happened in Blackpool back in the early days of my talent management career.

I had only been working the circuit for about four months. I had taken a local band, "Arthur Lead-foot and the Barrel Makers", from obscurity and back again when I met up with Clive 'Mad Dog' Chivers. He was the lead singer of the ultra folk band, "The Corn Men of Coopers Hill". I wasn't a fan of their music, but Clive told me that a pirate station that was anchored in Lake Windermere had had their single, "I'll sow my seed in any furrow", on heavy rotation. The disc-jockey that had the 'drive-time' slot (I always wondered about a drive-time slot for the car-full thorough fares of Bowness and Kendal), a mean spinner by the name of Giles Humble, went as far to say that their unique sound was something that could become a musical landmark. On hearing this I bit the bullet and dropped Arthur Lead-foot and took on the Corn Men.

I like to think that I followed in the footsteps of some of the most famous music managers of all time like Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein. I created my own office, started a fanclub for the band, arranged gigs right across the north of England and thought big: I promised the band that, like The Beatles, we would conquer America.

Ultra folk was a difficult genre of music to sell to some of the club managers of the north of England, particularly those in cities like Manchester and Liverpool. It reached a point were I simply told them lies. When they heard the band and told me that they didn't sound punk or rock'n'roll or prog-rock at all, I simply informed them that they were going through an experimental period. It worked 80 % of the time, but even for folk hardliners this band were a bit extreme. That said, I still managed to get the band gigs in many of the top clubs. One memorable gig was in the British Legion club in Rochdale. We were invited back five times in a row and there would have been a sixth time had there not been the arson attack. Mad Dog's uncle ran the club, but it was not the family connection that got us the gig. It was the sound.

The band had long had a troubled history. From the very beginning of the band, the creative heart had been Mad Dog and Mike "Bad Trunk." Illchester. They had grown up together on farms that were only five miles apart. It was this creative pair who had created the ultra folk sound, but it was the recognition and the kudos of the one who's singular idea it was that drove a wedge between them. Although there was tension, they never let their misdirected anger get in the way of the creative vision of the band. The other band members were Steve "The Horse" Handon (percussion) and Milton "The Cutter" Harris (spoons, washboard and accordion). These guys were equally loyal to both the creators: they were slaves to the sound and they just wanted to have a moment in the sun and their names written into folk-lore.

Mad Dog (named on account of a crossbreed who lost it's marbles in a harvesting accident and went a shade of loopy on his father's farm) and Bad Trunk (named on account of a fierce fight he had with a wild oak near Preston which left the trunk of the tree with a delicate imprint of Mike's head) were never roomed together on tour. However, this gig in Blackpool meant that they either had to share the caravan or share the tent with me, The Horse and The Cutter. They knew it was better to stay clear of The Cutter the night before a gig, particularly if nerves took a hold of his guts.

The caravan was stationed just north of Blackpool, in Fleetwood, in a small crop of caravans that looked out over the Irish Sea. We had arrived in my van at about tea-time and decided to eat first and then organise the tent. After a four hour dinner that consisted of a heated argument with the landlord over the ploughman's lunch, a dodgy pint of cider and getting lost on the way back in the pitch black of the night, we managed to make it back as a band. Plus two groupies that Bad Trunk had picked up.

The tent was erected with out the help of Mad Dog or Bad Trunk as one was entertaining the groupies and the other was sulking. We three slightly merry men got the tent up and we were sleeping within the hour. I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of The Cutter turning onto his stomach. I decided that it was best to cut loose of the tent while I still had control of all my senses. As I slipped into the van I noticed the silhouettes in the small caravan window. The windless night played no tricks on my vision and I clearly saw what looked like two women pretending to ride a horse. I smiled to myself and thought, "Lucky bastard" as I closed the door of the van behind me.

It could not have been more than three hours later when the sun started to break and, although my neck had stiffened, I tried to look over at the caravan. I guessed that because my neck was tight I couldn't look all the way around so I couldn't see the caravan at first glance. I slipped into a slumber again, only to be woken by The Cutter with the morning sun blinding me through the side window. I had slept in an odd position in the passenger seat of the van so it was more comfortable for me to lean my chin on my shoulder. As my left leg was dead I had to drag that behind me as I got out of the car. Looking across at the place where the caravan had been I could see nothing except for a pair of skimpy pink knickers, a Thermos flask and tread marks that lead down the field. As I slammed the door in shock I heard a 'yelp' from the back of the van. Mad Dog put his face to the window and winced in the sunlight, "Where'd the caravan go? The bastard was sowing his seed all night."

I limped and dragged my leg along the tread marks and was followed by The Cutter and, later, by Mad Dog. The tread marks led to the edge of a small cliff, not more than ten feet in height, and then disappeared. The tide was out and there were no marks in the sands below. The caravan must have come loose with Bad Trunks exertions and rolled into the sea. That was the only explanation that I could think of. The police were later convinced of the same thing. No foul play was suggested and an accident was recorded for the movement of the caravan (although the cheap bastard owner of the caravan charged me for the whole bloody thing, even though I pointed out that two breeze blocks did not constitute a brake). There was no body so no murder or death could be recorded. The coast guard was told to look out for a floating caravan, but nothing came up. Bad Trunk and his groupies had disappeared. Back in the fifties James Dean had died at the wheel of his car, and Buddy Holly died in a plane going through a storm... even Elvis passing from this life on the toilet was significant enough to remember. Who would remember this in the Music Hall of Fame? Some die-hard fans think, to this day, that peoples from another planet robbed us of a talent. I have my own ideas, but I'll keep them to myself - for a while any way. Needless to say, the band broke up that morning and I needed a new band. It wasn't hard to find one: I walked a long the Blackpool Promenade and discovered "Hang'em High" - Preston's first alternative country and western quintet.

I like to think of myself as some sort of free spirit or at least a wandering soul always on the look out for adventure. I remember when "India Jones and the Lost Ark" was first released, I contacted my solicitor and asked them to make sure that this story was not based on any of the adventures that I had had in Mexico, India, Mongolia and Finchley. There were glaring similarities between the dusty Ford character and the rough and ready Beamer that was familiar to the public, and authorities alike, in these far foreign lands. I hasten to add that the letter we received back from Spielberg and his cohorts was short and to the point: and that is, legally, how much more I can on the subject.

I never used to organise my travel arrangements, I would simply jump on board a boat in Liverpool, Southampton or Amsterdam and head where-ever they took me. The fact that I once jumped on board a boat that took me to Birkenhead, a mere stones throw of a journey across the Mersey, did not deny me one of the greatest adventures that I have ever had. However, I am considering writing a hardback novel about it, "From Birkenhead to Bidston - an indecent adventure", so I shall not bore you with the details here.

In these past years I have grown accustomed to using an independent travel agent called Moss Moss and Son in Childwall, Liverpool. It may be a bit of a trek from my current home, but it is always worth the journey. Moss Moss, who himself admits that he was such a handsome baby that they named him twice, is a fantastic man. Although slightly full of himself (he is hardly handsome these days, in fact, his name - Moss Moss - is due to the births registrar being slightly deaf and his dad having to repeat the surname) he is at least honest enough to admit that some companies charge the world for a meal that you wouldn't accept in a motorway cafÈ and a seat that is smaller than a bench seat in a flash sports car. He gets you the deals with his array of contacts all over the world. They all have names like Tone the Turk, Ivan the Iranian, Phylis the Philipino or Frank the Argentine. They can get first class on any carrier as well as the cheapest economy seat (or in some cases floor space) with any one willing to accept a payment of sorts.

Jumping off the bus outside the shop I always get this enormous sense of excitement as I look at the window. Above the large glass frontage, are the words 'Moss Moss and So's' (the 'N' has been missing for years) in a bold non-serif font that gives the company an air of trust and respectability. The large three dimensional letters were a yellow once, but, like a leaf in autumn, they are slowly going golden and brown. This doesn't look bad, but more like one of those collectable books that you find in the library: it makes them look well worn, well used, well kept and, more importantly, well preserved.

The window below is cleaned three times a week and has had the same display in it for years. A three foot long model of a jumbo jet that is balanced at a precarious angle on it's stand looks like it is about to rise and fly straight out of the right hand side of the window. It's once bleached white surface and livery now yellowed and faded. A black, hand drawn, line beneath the nose of the jet gives it the look of a very happy plane, although the plastic sticky tape that holds the left engine on to the wing never inspires even the most experienced of travellers. Next to the plane stands a group of men who are standing in a line like they are about to face a free-kick from some fearsome footballer. If it wasn't for their blazers, bold coloured wife beater vests, khaki shorts down to their knees and smiles that look like grimaces you could have mistaken them for footballers. According to Moss Moss, all these men are locals to Barbados who always look after his favoured clients. They weren't there when I went, but I suppose they have to holiday too. On the far left of the window stands an example of how some would say air-hostesses should look. There was once a complaint about the low cut tops that these particular members of the Swedish cabin crew were wearing. On closer inspection, you can see that their blouses have been added, by carefully cut paper, at a later date (if you catch the right time of day, you'll be able to see through the thin paper and witness three of the only topless cabin crew ever to flown from London to Malta via Sweden). Beneath these cut outs and models is a home made beach created with builders quality sand and fading deep blue crepe paper. The dust moves, just as sand would I guess, in the eddies of heat that a window of that size can create no matter what the weather. A solid wooden divider stands behind the cut-outs that comes only to waist height. You can see right into the shop if you look hard enough, but this is made difficult by two halogen floodlights that shine out of the window like two suns from an alien planet. I once asked Moss Moss why he had two suns in the window and he simply said it was two for one and that the joiner had fitted both in the front when he wanted then to put out in the back yard. Apparently, the joiner didn't work in the rain so installed them inside. In winter they act like mini-heaters and in summer like grills for any meats or sausages.

Moss Moss would always greet you with wide open arms and a smile straight from the salesman's handbook. His cream shirts always rolled up to the elbow on the sleeves to give the impression of hard work (he even has water in a spray can to give added drops of perspiration to his forehead and darken the material under his arms) and the tail of his shirt slightly hanging out. His trousers he wears loose, while his shoes are always immaculately polished. I like that in a shop man, something my dad always drummed into me. He wasn't tall, but he looked powerful and he was able to cradle two phones on either side of his neck while his hands would either type away into his "discount' calculator or write down flight numbers with the Parker pen he got with another insurance policy.

He would sit behind his huge grey and metal desk where you wanted to go and then he would lean back in one of those comfortable recliners, press his fingers together above his chest and pretend to think of the cheapest way he could get you there. Once you knew him, he would let you know that certain pass words would get you certain discounts. "I'll get you a girl for tonight" was always used when you wanted at least 25% knocked off the normal price of the airfare. He once told me that the passwords for getting free accommodation for a fortnight in Brazil were "I'll let you sleep with both my sisters", but I couldn't do it (I don't have two sisters). He would phone people all around the world by dialling three digits repeatedly into the phone. I often wondered if he actually spoke to anyone, but the tickets/vouchers/keys to a car would always turn up when arranged. I felt guilty doubting him sometimes, but when he always asked for cash and didn't give you receipts ("on my word" he would always say). Whatever some people thought, he always got you where you wanted to be.

I haven't been to Moss Moss and Sons in a while now. I can organise trips away through my management or over the internet. I sometimes feel lonely and as if I am taking some huge risk sending my credit card details over the web, but - looking back - it is better than handing a brown paper bag of untraceable tenners to Moss Moss through the special drawer in his desk. As you left the shop he would always shout, "Happy Holidays! If I am not here when you get back it is only because I got so jealous that I followed you out there!" A good man.

I was tired from an excessive weekend in Manchester and was looking a little dishevelled. With nothing but my hold-all, I was dropped off by a friend at the railway station on which I had spent many a long afternoon waiting for the inter-city train to the North. It was on the very same platform that I stood on that evening that Paul Simon wrote 'Homeward Bound'.

Wigan North Western is not an old traditional station in the old-fashioned kind of way, but, instead, it is a modern vision of the modest station that has about as much character as a plinth of cement. That said, this station is absolutely glorious in the summer. The open platforms capture the sun from all directions and the height allows a light breeze to cool you off. Although it is on the fringe of the town, you can still hear a little bit of hubbub, mainly fire engines and the screeching tyres of looney in a built-up car with a stereo turned up so high that their ears bleed. Everything seems to go slow on the platform during these heated months, in fact, it seems to go slow no matter what the time of year it is.

It was far from summer the night I had my show down. Although it was dry, the wind was whipping through the open station with a remorseless fervour. The wind was trying to fool us all. It would die down, then slice across us as we stood waiting for our trains. Time did indeed seem to stand still here, even when you watched the modern clock: the numbers seemed to fall into place much more slowly than you would expect. A woman - her name was Linda and she had a very pretty mouth - made the point that it was a deliberate ploy by the train companies to fool us into thinking that they were on time.

My train was an hour late so I decided to go to the toilet as peeing in that wind would not only splash my shoes, but would actually splash shoes on platforms three, four and five. I lumbered down the stairs with my head tucked into my coat's collar. As I descended the stairs to the ticket office and the toilets I noticed someone watching me. His eyes were narrow, his gait was stiff and his feet were turned at something close to a quarter three. His feet pulled my attention. I didn't mean to stare, but it made me wonder just how his knee joints must have been very loose. I let it go, but found myself walking to the toilet in a Charlie Chaplain-esque way.

As I was shaking off in the toilet the medium sized dynamite of a man with strange feet threw himself into the toilet. His eyes scanned the room for others, his hand pushed the door shut as he shuffled in like a penguin with short steps. I casually put myself away. Threw myself to the right side and went to wash my hands. The man with penguin feet just stood and stared at me. I was letting the warm water run through my hands when the man came along side me and started washing his hands too. It was threatening. His left foot toe was rubbing my heel. I was worried if this was a threat, or worse - a come on. I didn't play either of those game, so I went to the hand-dryer. In a low drawl he said, "You don't remember me Beamer".

Back upstairs, the platform was empty. The wind was rattling through the drinks machine and the platform signs, that hung from the small roof, were squeaking with an eerie regularity. I stood and thought about what he had said in the toilet. I couldn't place him. I couldn't even reply. I never forget feet like that and I still couldn't place him. I stood just two yards from the edge of the platform with my face into the wind, enjoying the exhilaration of the gusts. I felt a toe glide past my heel. He was too close. I had left the toilet with out saying anything to him and he was coming back to get my response. The squeaking platform signs were a soundtrack to the face off of two strangers who had apparently crossed paths before.

I looked at him a little longer and then the penny dropped. It was Mickey 'The Flipper' Thinklewaite, one of the greatest push penny players this side of the Penines. I had broken his unbeaten run of 231 games with a show of flair and determination. I hadn't seen his feet that night, but the memories started flooding back. He had been flanked that night by three to five of his favourite ladies. They toured with him where ever he pushed. They were The Flipper Fluffers and loved the glory and celebrity that came with a great of the game like Mickey. The game was hard and I managed to come back from a five slide deficit to defeat the greatest pusher the game had ever seen. My reign as king of the game was short (only seven games, I didn't train and I was hardly professional when it came to the diet and physical aspects of it), but I enjoyed it as long as it had lasted.

As I shoved the winning penny, I looked up at The Fluffers and they all stepped away from Mickey. Not only did the ladies move away from him, but as they stepped away, the celebrity status slipped away, the glamour lost its sheen and the glory was quickly dimming. That night I enjoyed the company of all the Fluffers: from the bar to the bed and beyond. It was a magic night where I discovered things about myself that I never thought were in me. As I tried to remember that night, I looked into the eyes of the man who now stood opposite me. You could see the flames of hate in his eyes. "Flipper", I said, "I can't believe that I didn't place the face. How's the push? You still got what it takes?" He seemed to seethe. Then he let out a growl which I translated as, "Beamer, you ruined me. I haven't won a game since that night. I haven't spoken to the Fluffers for years. I did see them the other year, but they turned and walked in the other direction. I can't even get my seat at the bar in 'The Stone and Goliath'. I blame you for all this."

His breath was heavy with meths and his eyes still glowed with hate and the fire of retribution. I shrugged - I had beaten him fair and square - and turned to the board to see that my train was going to be a further forty minutes late. As I turned, 'The Flipper' had whipped a tressle table out from under his coat and had thrown a penny on the shiny, laminated top. "Let's slide - I want my dignity back. I want my life back". I told him that I didn't want to play, but he insisted. Or rather he threatened. He pulled the penny under his finger, crouched like a tiger over the table and let his eyes pick the spot. As he pulled back the trigger finger and went to let loose, the wind blasted across the platform and lifted the table from the ground. It smacked into the face of Flipper with a force that Cassius Clay would have been proud of. He grabbed the outside of the table to stop it jabbing him further, but this seemed to turn the two into a human kite or glider. It looked like a plane flying backwards: the table as the wings and his feet like propellers. He seemed to lift and swoop like a swallow chasing flies over a summer meadow. He took a dive at the pair of tracks, but lifted and landed face down on platform three. The table dragged him a full fifteen yards across the platform: his knuckles leaving a trail of blood and flesh from the edge to the door of the station tea bar. Thankfully, only those downwind heard the scream. All I could hear was the sound my train coming in. He turned to look at me. I tried to think of something clever, witty or memorable, but all I could shout back was something so low that I now regret it, "Yeah, push off". Why can I never think of anything decent to say. About an hour later I had a head full of ideas, but it's always too late.

I never heard of or saw 'Flipper' again. No loss there though.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Life category from April 2004.

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