It was windy, it was cold and it was pissing down with rain. Craig Spark and Carl ‘Robbo’ Robinson sat illuminated by a flickering streetlamp on a graffiti-stained park bench sharing a litre bottle of White Lightning cider. A church bell chimed midnight and a cat screeched. A siren wailed in the distance.
‘They say you used to be able to hire a contract killer there in the fifties,’ said Sparky, shivering.
‘Where?’ said Robbo, rubbing his snotty nose with his jacket sleeve.
‘For fucks, sake, Robbo. The Band On The Wall. Weren’t you paying attention?’ said Sparky.
He pulled his hood up.
‘Of course not. I never listen to you. You talk shite. Anyway, why the fuck would you want us to play a gig there, then, if it’s so rough?’ said Robbo.
He took swig of cider and handed the bottle to Sparky.
‘I told you, it’s the history. Everyone’s played there Jimi Hendrix, T-Rex, John Otway.’
‘And your Uncle Howard’s band?’ said Robbo with a sneer.
He pulled his black woollen hat over his head.
‘Yeah, what’s wrong with that? Halcyon Days were pretty good in their day.’
‘Maybe. I wouldn’t know. It was before my time. But don’t you think it’s a bit too high profile for a first gig, like?’
‘What do you want to do? Play your dad’s church hall of a Sunday?’
Robbo flushed. He hated being reminded that his dad was a vicar. It didn’t fit in with the angry young man image he wanted to project.
‘Naw, of course not but it might be better if we played somewhere we can get a few mates together. For a bit of moral support, like. We don’t really know anyone in Manchester,’ he said.
‘We don’t really have any mates either,’ said Sparky.
They were both silent.
Robbo drained the last of the cider. Sparky looked at his digital watch.
‘The off licence is shut,’ said Sparky.
‘Fancy King Kurt’s for some spliff, then?’ said Robbo.
‘Aye. Why not? Better than nowt.’
They got up and walked toward the main road, kicking the empty plastic cider bottle between them as they went.
Robbo hated signing on. He hated the bland office workers and the stinky proles. He hated the sterile office. He hated the piped muzak- today’s choice seemed to be the best of The Beatles and he really hated The Beatles. He hated Scousers in general but he particularly hated The Beatles. And he hated the pot plants that lined the room. They reminded him of his mum and he hated those memories most of all.
A fat bloke with a hipster beard and trendy specs sat behind the counter giving the same old anonymous job seeker bullshit that Robbo always ignored as he signed his name. He was down the stairs as fast as he could and out onto the rain soaked high street. Sparky was waiting outside, listening to his battered old Walkman and using his inhaler.
‘What are you listening to?’ said Robbo.
‘I know that. But what’s on it.’
‘The Fall, Buzzcocks, The Smiths, 10CC …’
‘Same old Manc shit, then …’
‘I spoke to Uncle Howie,’ he said.
‘Bugger,’ said Robbo.
‘What? He said he could swing it. He can get us on at the Band On The Wall.’
Robbo shook his head.
‘I told you. We’re not ready,’ he said ‘We need to rehearse more. Especially with the other two. We hardly know them.’
‘Come on,’ said Sparky. ‘We were an electronic duo for two years. I know my lyrics and you know the ins and outs of that keyboard. Kurt and Zygmunt are as tight as a nun’s nasty. The time is ripe for Futero. We’re retro and futuristic!’ he punched the air.
‘I suppose so,’ said Robbo, frowning.
‘Come on. What could possibly go wrong?’
‘I know you’re not a vegetarian. It’s just that you have vegetarian personality,’ said Zygmunt.
The massive Pole was doing all the heavy lifting, putting all the musical equipment into the back of the battered white transit van they’d borrowed.
Sparky ignored him. He leant against the lock-up wall, drinking a bottle of Tizer. Zygmunt was an annoying twat but he was a bloody good drummer. And he had contacts too. He always knew a man who knew a man. He seemed to have hundreds of cousins. Hence the transit van they’d borrowed to get their equipment to the gig. .
‘I still don’t see how we are going to get to the gig,’ said Kurt, through a fog of dope fumes. ‘The only one of us that can drive is Zygmunt and his licence is a dodgy Polak one he got from one of his dodgy cousins. There’s a fortune’s worth of gear in that van.’
‘I have contacts,’ said Zygmunt. ‘Trust me.’
They all started laughing.
The moment the van was packed, Robbo arrived.
‘Oh dear, am I too late help out?’ he said. ‘How sad, never mind.’
Zygmunt grimaced. He loathed Robbo and the feeling was mutual.
‘I hope you brought some booze,’ he said.
‘Oh, ye of little faith,’ said Robbo.
He went outside and came back pushing a barrow laden with beer cans.
‘Where the fuck did you get that from?’ said Sparky.
‘Well, I also know a man who knows a man,’ said Robbo. ‘And the one I know even speaks the Queen’s English.’
Zygmunt looked at a couple of the beer cans.
‘This beer is past its sell-by date,’ said Zygmunt.
‘Well what do you want for nowt,’ said Robbo. ‘It’ll do the trick. Keep the edge off us until tonight.’
Sparky opened a can. It frothed out over him. The others laughed.
‘Shit, that’s me stage gear,’ said Sparky, wringing the beer from his shirt.
‘Hey, I have thought of a song to cover tonight,’ said Zygmunt. ‘Robbo can sing it.’
‘What’s that?’ said Kurt. ‘Like A Virgin?’
‘Arf, arf,’ said Robbo.
‘No,’ said Zygmunt. He chuckled. ‘Son Of A Preacher Man.’
Everyone except Robbo laughed.
Robbo burned red.
‘Bastards,’ he said.
‘I only take piss,’ said Zygmunt. ‘Here is something to cheer up your no end. Better than beer.’
He took a bottle of pills from his pocket.
‘Feta. Amphetamine. I get from my cousin. You want? Keep us awake all night.’
There were a few shrugs and everyone said yes. They knew little about drugs but Zygmunt was experienced, it seemed.
‘Okay,’ said Zygmunt. ‘Take two pills with beer now. Then one more and that it. No more until tonight.’
They all did as the big Pole suggested.
‘Tastes funny,’ said Robbo.
‘That’s what you mother said,’ said Zygmunt.
No one laughed.
Robbo felt as if he was being smothered. As if someone was holding a pillow over his face. His mouth was arid. His head was pounding. He peeled back his eyelids and saw that it was dark. There were stars in the night sky outside. A mangy mongrel was pissing against the lock up doors and the transit van was gone. He groaned, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
‘So, not one of you daft fuckers actually know this Polak’s actual name then?’ said Stevie Spark.
He marched up and down the room glaring at Robbo, Kurt and his son, who were at on upturned wooden crates looking rough. They looked at each other. Shrugged. Shuffled their feet.
‘Sigmund something,’ said Kurt.
‘Oh, that really narrows it down, that does,’ said Stevie. ‘Bloody brilliant that is. And where do you know him from?’
‘Facebook,’ said Sparky. ‘He’s in a Joy Division fan group.’ He was feeling queasy.
‘And that’s it? That’s all you know about him?’ said Stevie.
‘He has about 4000 friends on Facebook,’ said Kurt.
Stevie glared at him.
‘I’m wasting my time with you shower,’ I am,’ said Stevie.
He marched out of the lock up and slammed the metal door behind him.
‘I told you it tasted funny,’ said Robbo.
‘Like you’d know what amphetamine tasted like,’ said Sparky. ‘Or diazepam or whatever Zygmunt gave us.’
Robbo rubbed his head.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘What now?’
‘Well, looks it like we’re a 3 piece, then,’ said Kurt.
No one said anything. Robbo watched a mouse scuttle across the floor.
‘I know a bloke with a drum machine,’ said Kurt.
‘Upwards and onwards,’ he said. He stood and punched the air. The room started to spin.
‘Aye, that will be right,’ said Robbo, as Sparky puked over his feet.
Banner Image: By Jake from Manchester, UK (Band On The Wall 80th Birthday Party) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons