I was baaaawwwwn. In a one way cul DE saaaaaac.
“Is that actually possible?”
“Is what possible?”
“A cul-de-sac being one way. How would you ever leave?”
I set my beer on the bar and give Frank the look.
“Don’t give me that face. I’m just trying to understand what…”
“You’re over-thinking it. It’s perfect blues rock. What could inspire more rebellion and pent up rage than living in a street you can’t legally drive out of? Besides,” I nod at the leather-clad lead vocalist. “Are you going to argue lyrics with him?”
Declan Zaster. Big D as he was known to his fellow Aftershocks was a legend of the pub circuit. Thirty one years belting out rock standards to a never ending assortment of piss-heads would take it out of a lesser man, but not Big D. Every week he came back for more with juggernaut enthusiasm and a level of lumpen grace rarely seen outside of building materials.
“I hear they banned him from the Pig and Fiddle last week,” says Frank.
“Tripped the noise limiter again?”
“No. Some guy got chirpy with him and he…well, let’s just say the harmonica was going to take a good deal of persuasion to work loose.”
I suck air over my teeth. “Guess we won’t be hearing much Bob Dylan tonight then. Do you think he’ll be…”
The splintering screams of damaged plywood are audible over the massed feedback. Big D is now several feet shorter than he was at the start of the gig. He bends at the waist to pick up the buzzing microphone he dropped when the ground gave way beneath him and waves the band to silence. “Don’t worry folks, it’s just a stage I’m going through. We’ll be back in a few.”
I raise my glass to the stage and then clink glasses with Frank. “Now that is thirty one years of experience. Pure class.”
“Evening Big D.”
“Alright lads? Enjoying the show?”
“Spot on,” says Frank. “You’re owning the place. Get you a beer?”
“Cheers Francis.” Big D nudges me in the ribs. “Not a bad turnout eh Nige?”
I look out over the place, swallow some beer, rub my chin and then nod. “Bloody good for a wet Thursday in November I’d say.” I take another sip and grin. “The only problem is…”
“It’s June and it’s Saturday.” Big D finishes my line, laughs and slaps me on the shoulder. I feign injury so he hits me again. “You always had the best lines Nige.”
“What can I say? It’s a blessing and a curse.”
The refills arrive from the bar and the three of us drink in relative silence. One of the bar staff brings in an old door that doubles as a trestle table on function nights and drops it over the broken piece of stage floor. I turn Big D’s head towards it. “That thing usually carries vol-au-vents. Go easy on it big man.”
“Rock and roll Nige. Go hard or go home. So, Do you…”
“Don’t ask Dec.”
Big D puts his hand on my shoulder and gives me the look. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…well. Look, you were the best. The best of the bloody best. We had something when you were up there Nige. Don’t get me wrong, Tony can play but you and me…it was just…”
“Yeah. It was. And we still had the same shit November Thursdays on a June Saturday to the same empty pubs. Nothing’s changed.”
“Everything’s changed. You, me, everything. I got the easy route out when Jane left but for you it was much more…”
“Yeah it was. Much more.”
Declan Big-D Zaster drinks the rest of his pint. Stands. Hits my shoulder again. “I know it’s tough Nige. I get it. But none of us want to see you on the sidelines of life.” His back is turned and he is heading for the stage when he adds, “And Mags would kill you.”
I watch him leave. I have no response.
“He’s right you know Nige. Mags would…”
“Leave it Frank. Please.”
Frank shrugs and settles into his beer. It takes a true friend to shut up when there’s so much to be said. I turn to the bar as the guitar and bass chime back into life. Within two notes I recognise it as Maggie May and shake my head. I face the stage, raise my glass and two fingers to Big D and grin despite myself. He shrugs and spreads his arms wide just missing Tony DiMeola who ducks, stumbles over a chord and then trips headlong over the buffet table door now reinforcing the stage. There are two cracks. One as his head hits the stage and the second as the 1968 Telecaster he had heroically pivoted behind him lands on his arm. Luckily for Tony he is already out cold before the second blow breaks his radius bone. Unluckily, he wakes scant seconds later before the agony has time to fade and is led ashen-faced from the stage by his wife.
Big D shrugs and raises his arms again.
I turn back to the bar. Frank grabs my arm and I give him the look.
He throws his hands in the air. “Nige, for f…”
I throw my jacket over his head before he can finish, down my pint, and walk towards the light.