ANTINOMY, by Rosily Jones
At first the main aspect that our band lacked was a name. We spent a while thinking and talking about it – identity was almost as important to us as our music. Simon put forward ‘Fear on the Buses’, for reasons that he never divulged, but it felt too long. We called ourselves ‘Opposition’ for a while – it gave us a good angle – until Pat discovered that there was already a bigger band by that name. I eventually came up with a variant that worked. It sounded clever, confrontational, we loved it: ‘Antinomy’. Pat went out briefly with a girl that studied science, who later told us ‘antimony’ was a type of toxic chemical element. We figured it didn’t matter too much if people got the two confused.
It all kicked off at that big gig we did at the 101 Club, but I’m going to start before that: when we formed our band. The four of us had always been friends since we were young: Ron, Simon, Pat and I. Pat had always been a big Top of the Pops fan, although I’d never been able to stand that programme. As a result, he’d always wanted to be in a band and when the music shop in Lantham Street opened and had a start-up sale we thought, sure, why not. Everything around us was dull, none of us could get any steady employment; we were bored with our own indolence. Ron had played the gong in the school band when he was younger. So he took drums. Pat and Simon took guitar and bass respectively and I got vocals, as we couldn’t afford a fourth instrument. I didn’t mind really. My mother had always made me sing in church, when we used to go, so at least I had some previous experience with my part. I’d always been the leader of our little gang too, so frontman rather fitted me.
Our first ‘practice’ took place in Ron’s garage. I’m unsure if I can really classify it as a practice as none of us knew how to play to any decent standard. It was a typical, concrete-dominated garage: even though the house was quite new, (Ron had moved further away from the centre of London to a bigger place when his dad got a promotion – he still lived with his parents) creases of damp still glinted on the dank walls, with the slight suggestion of moss. There was one light bulb out of the three that flickered and died and that we never got round to changing. It did the job; the walls were thick so nobody complained about noise (those suburbs were full of zealous Tories who wouldn’t have hesitated to call the police on us). Ron’s mother, sandy-haired and plump fingered, would occasionally pop in with cups of tea and fig rolls. There were a few power sockets and after we pushed a dusty DIY bench to the side there was plenty of room for my record player and a stack of vinyls. We jazzed the place up with a few posters – I refused to let Pat put up his Bowie one.
It was a slow start on the music front. Pat had learned a bit of guitar in the past from a cousin of his, even if it was mostly of an acoustic-folksy persuasion. But we’d bought a few books and second-hand videotapes and with a lot of effort and a few weeks we managed our instruments and could bang out a decent tune on them. But being amateur made us sound good; simple guitar chords, good rhythms, no mawkish elongated solos.
Simon told us we needed to wear matching clothes to put forward a strong image. I was initially repulsed by the idea – garish boy-scout outfits sprung to mind – but I agreed we needed to represent ourselves well. Back in those days I used to buy a lot of my clothes from charity shops, when Oxfam was still actually cheap, and this was our first port of call. By some chance of fate I think they must have had a recent donation; there was a small rack full of grey air force style uniforms: shirts with epaulettes, straight trousers, and grey jackets. We unanimously agreed that these were as perfect as anything we were going to get and bought all of the grey shirts and trousers that were in our size. Putting the clothes on in Ron’s garage we knew we’d made the right choice; they were nothing too ostentations or flashy, but we looked as one unit, the grey cloth mirroring the grey streets. I can still remember their smell too; the mustiness of the shop mingling with something sharper that stung the nose. We never got round to washing them.
I don’t know when a group of men with instruments becomes a proper ‘band’, but after meeting Michael McCluskey I felt we had crossed that line. I realise it was one of those off chance coincidences, the sort that you think happens in films, but it happened to us.
We’d progressed so well that after a few weeks, we had a few gigs. Unpaid ones, mind, or open mic nights in dingy pubs. We were on the rota between a crooning classical guy and a sweating performance poet. Simon swore we played after a younger John Cooper Clarke once, but I wouldn’t trust his word on that. The Sword and Crown show was when it happened for us. The walls had a lacquered pine finish on, only slightly cracked, and the floor was carpeted with a thick maroon pile, only slightly stained. An oil painting of George VI hung next to the gent’s and one of the bleeding Queen by the ladies’. The smell of spilt pints and smoke nuzzled in the air, drifting in and out between the low murmurs of the clientèle. Good acoustics. In one corner of the main room a space had been cleared, chairs and tables pushed along to create an area where we put our instruments and one amp.
Before we went on I remember Pat tugging my sleeve and talking to me in a slightly higher pitch than normal.
“I’m not sure about our opener, Nick; it’s a bit… aggressive, ya know? There’s a tableful o’ people wearing suits and ties out there. Why don’t we go for ‘song 3’ instead?” We still hadn’t given names to any of what we called songs yet. “It’ll ease ‘em into it gentler, like. It doesn’t look like they even want to hear any music.”
I noticed a splat of ale froth on his collar as I replied.
“Don’t be a bloody pansy, Pat. We’ll do what we’re going to do; we’ll sound great and screw them if they don’t think so. It’ll be fine, trust me.” I tried to reassure him, or at least I think I was him I was reassuring. The silence when the music stops and there’s no applause is a moment that lasts an awkward lifetime. Pat nodded and went back to the bar.
When our time came, the barman went up to the mic and cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, ladies, please put your hands together for Antimony!” He stepped off, hands raised in the air clapping, which was weakly echoed around the pub.
We walked into our corner, got into position and dove right into it with ‘track 1’. I couldn't have said anything to the crowd if I had wanted to: my mouth was too dry and my pulse too loud. I took a swig of beer, desperately swilling it around to wet the sides of my tongue. In the meantime Pat made a few tentative twangs on his guitar before positioning his fingers firmly on the neck, pushing them down with white-knuckle pressure, finally letting his chords ring out. Simon's bass, a heavy steady thump, came next from my left; I didn't look at him but I knew he'd be staring straight ahead of him, neither smiling nor frowning. Ron was supposed to start playing simultaneously with Simon, but was behind by a second or two and had to rush the first few drumhits to catch up. His beats grew in pace and volume to a peak before falling back and I launched in, after about thirty seconds into it. Try and make the audience really want it. “Lying there , Sitting here / No-one can hear the warning / Waiting for a train to come. / We've been far too long / On all these expectations / And now I know this race is run.” I never made eye contact. Later we refined this track, sharpened it up, and named it ‘Underground Gas’.
Our thirteen minute set got our best reception yet. A few claps, one cheer, some toe tapping and nobody booed. It must have been hot in that pub too because I remember seeing the stain of sweat under our armpits and in a triangle between the shoulderblades. After we packed our kit away, we all went back to the bar for another pint.
“Pint of bitter please,” I asked the wrinkle-cheeked proprietor.
“I’ll get that for you, son,” A reedy voice from my left interjected. I turned around to face the man stood there. Thin and tall, he had a mass of dark red curling hair that sprouted to below his ears, wispy in the yellow light. He wore an ankle-length Afghan coat that made me wonder why I hadn’t spotted him in the crowd earlier. “In fact, this round’s on me, alright?” He held his hand towards me, smiling.
“The name’s Matthew, Matthew McCluskey, and if you boys have a few minutes I’d love to sit down and chat.” I shook his hand and my bones crunched. He had a strong grip.
We’d never passed up the opportunity for a free drink before, so after we’d got them we found a booth in the corner. Ron was slightly larger than the rest of us so he had to pull up a stool. I didn’t want to sit next to McCluskey – his hair had a bit of an aurora about it – so I slid in opposite.
“Loved the set boys, loved the set. You’ve got a fresh sound, I like it. In fact it’s just what I’m looking for at the moment.” We were silent as we let him continue. I lit a cigarette and Ron chewed his nails. “You see I’m putting on quite a large show in a few weeks’ time with a few more bands, with a similar sort of sound that you’ve got – different, lively, really the forerunners in punk at the moment. It’s going to be mind-blowing.” He paused and looked at us. “Anyway, there’s still space on the bill for one or two more groups, and I think— no, I know - you’d fit in great. How about it?” He slapped his palms down on the table and beamed at us.
The air thickened with spiralling smoke. We didn’t say anything for half a minute and I became more aware of my heartbeat. Simon cleared his throat.
“Oo’ else is playin’?” he asked.
“Smart question – I have confirmed so far Dead Dove and The Spectres, Fire Fire Fire, Sex Toys, Blitzkrieg and a few others…” Pat nodded. McCluskey paused. “Oh… and The Crash.” His nose shone in the dim light as the corners of his mouth and eyebrows twitched up, looking at us. I coughed. It was too warm again.
“The Crash? Really?”
“Oh yes, yes, I went to them first. I’m an acquaintance with their manager, y’see. Don’t worry too much about that really though, boys, I won’t let you go onstage as green as you are now!” He gave a short laugh. “No no, there’s plenty of time for work to be done, aye indeed. I’ve a great space you can use, for practice. Nudge you in the direction.”
“IF we agree.” I said quickly.
“Nick... o’ course we’ll agree,” Pat piped up. “I mean… come on. This is what it’s about, a proper gig, isn’t it? And with The Crash…”
“Well mebbe we should discuss it for a minute… in private.” I said quietly, glancing at McCluskey, who still had a grin on his face. He seemed eager to please, interested in our music, but there was something about him I just didn't trust. Maybe it was that slight whistling noise his teeth made every time he breathed out.
“But there’s nothing to discuss surely,” Simon added, “I can’t think of a half decent reason not to. Get some decent dough.”
I shrugged. I had to admit he was right. “Alright then, we’ll do it.” I stubbed the dead cigarette into an ashtray and shook McCluskey’s muscular waiting hand.
“This is the beginning of a wonderful future, boys.”
I got the telephone call from McCluskey next day. I recognised his pitched voice as soon as I picked up the receiver. I gathered up the boys and we met him where requested, a flat above some clothes store in King’s Road that he part owned. It was surprisingly large inside, a feeling perhaps given by the lack of furniture. The biggest room was empty apart from a sagging brown corduroy sofa, a cardboard box and an amplifier. Motes of dust floated across my vision in the golden yellow of the morning and a slightly rancid smell hung in the air, and I spotted what I thought might be rat droppings – but it was satisfactory.
McCluskey had met us in the street and brought us up. He flourished his arms and grinned, gold fillings glinting in the weak sunlight.
“Here you are boys, a home away from home. It might not look like all that much but the acoustics are fantastic in here, trust me. You've got your gear, good, there's a spare amp over there if you need it.”
We spread across the room, putting our instruments down. We'd brought the drum kit over in a transit van that Ron's dad owned. I had good memories of that van: a few weeks ago we’d all had to sleep in it after a gig. We’d celebrated too hard and lost Simon, and in looking for him we missed the last tube and bus home; lord knows we couldn’t afford a taxi. It was cosy, even with the smell of bodies. Ron made a pillow for himself inside his drum.
McCluskey continued: “Obviously if you need anything more, I'm downstairs, or you can leave a message for me. I think there should be some writing stuff in that box over there, paper and the like, if you needed it. There's a fridge in the next room, I’ll have a few tinnies sent up.”
We murmured our thanks as we started to unpack and set up.
“Anyway, I’ll leave you to it, though I'll be in from time to time to check up on your progress.” He trotted out down the stairs.
Simon stretched his arms and sat down heavily on the sofa. A cloud of dust billowed gently round his legs. Ron drew the word “shite” in the window. Pat had plugged himself in by then and had a few experimental strums on his guitar. The volume was surprising – Ron's finger skidded across the glass.
“Right then, me muckers,” I called out clearly. My voice reverberated round the room.
Simon rose. “I guess he was right about them acoustics. Well, miles better than the sound in the garage.”
Ron let out a quiet grunt.
“Okay okay, places people, I don't want to spend the rest of my life in here.”
Our first rehearsal didn't go well. I'm not sure if it was the difference the room's space or sound, or us being unsettled and a bit undecided. Probably a mix of all. But we couldn't seem to gel together; Pat forgot all three of his chords and Ron dropped his drumsticks more than once. An hour into it I was getting hoarse and some well-pierced teenager knocked and entered.
“This is from Mr McCluskey,” he muttered quickly, dropping a bag on the floor before leaving. I announced a break.
“Thank fucking god,” said Simon, moving towards the bag and tipping its contents onto the floor. He tossed us each a can of lager, Heineken I think it was, and sat on the sofa with us. Ron had found a bean bag chair in the next room and brought it in to sit on, picking up a bag of peanuts out of McCluskey's bag. We sat in silence for five minutes, glad of the rest I reckon. Pat picked at his developing calluses and Ron spilt peanut crumbs down his vest. After I'd finished my first drink I tore it in half to make an ashtray. We got another can of beer and played with the cards that Pat had in his pocket, beginning to relax and release our tension.
A while later we were still having a laugh when McCluskey returned. He stopped in the doorway of the room and looked at us.
“Not playing?” He asked without smiling.
“Oh aye we are, we’s just taking a bit of a break that's all,” I replied, standing up and facing him.
“This is a practice room, not a sitting room. You haven't got all that long to rehearse you know, lads, I really think you should be playing now.”
“Cool yer jets mate, don't worry ‘bout it, we're on it.” Simon rose too, widening his eyes at me, and stepped towards his bass. Pat followed him, with just a slight wobble, followed slowly by Ron. McCluskey folded his arms.
“We were just having a few difficulties, that's all. New environment and all that.” I explained, clearing my throat. McCluskey's eyebrows unknitted and he advanced into the room.
“Maybe I can help. I know what I'm doing, why don't you let me hear one?” It was a rhetorical question.
“Well... song 6 is the one we're having the most problem with...”
“Lack of synchronisation, I’m reckoning,” chimed in Pat.
McCluskey waved his hand and we began to play. Simon and Pat were supposed to start at the same time, but Pat missed his cue and had to rush to catch up to time. Put off, my voice squeaked and broke, then went flat half way through. Ron was fair, but hit the drums too hard.
“What was wrong with that? Bit rough around the edges sure, but isn't everything at first?” He said when we'd finished.
We looked at him. “It was all wrong, Matthew. Out. Messy,” Pat spoke.
“So what? I like that. It sounds different. It sounds good with you. Leave the neatness to the posers, yes? Let me hear another one, if you'd be so kind.”
“Well then... Let's try song 7 this time then mates,” I declared, looking round at the rest of the band. We started up and it went better than before. Maybe McCluskey's words had made us worry less. It was faster than the other too, so maybe the slip-ups were less obvious.
McCluskey nodded his head when we finished. “Not bad. Needs to be a tad faster though. And for the chorus, if you call it that, you should sing at the same time. As loud as you like. Scare the pigeons off the roof.” We murmured and nodded our assent.
He checked his wristwatch. “I better be off. If I don't see you before you leave, then tell Viv downstairs when you do so she can lock up. I expect I'll see you tomorrow, so bye until then.” He left.
I breathed out. “Well... I guess we better do another hour's playing then.”
Ron clicked his drumsticks.
There's not much point going through in much detail our other rehearsals around that time. We got better, wrote a solid set of songs and felt a lot more confident. We still sounded unrefined, but that was a good thing; as McCluskey put it, “Part of the aesthetic.” So I'll continue at the '101 Club Punk Fest' gig that happened, as promised, a few weeks after we met him.
The club itself was a nice place, seemed almost sophisticated. It had a modest little front with a red awning and name sign outside in swirling black letters and purple carpet in the lobby. The main room was large, but still felt rather cosy owing to the plump leather seats by one wall. There was a well-stocked bar at the back (I remember, because they had Bass Red Triangle ale, and that's fairly hard to find nowadays) and on the other side the stage, raised up above the floor by a foot. The band and I had spotted a few posters in the days preceding the event and saw that we were the 3rd name down on the bill, above even Dead Dove & The Spectres. We all smiled at that.
One of the highlights of the night was meeting the other bands. The most important meet, of course, was with The Crash. As the gang and I walked into the hall, in the early evening before the gig, we saw McCluskey waving his arms about and talking fast to another man. This guy was shorter than McCluskey, broad shouldered, and stood with his feet apart, slowly nodding his head. He had dark, slicked back hair with long sideburns and was wearing a close-fitting black shirt with silver buttons and a polished pair of Docs. They saw us looking and turned towards us.
“Ah! Boys! There you are, there you are,” McCluskey clapped his hands and made towards us, his wide smile stretched further than ever. “I'd like you to meet a friend of mine: this is Barry Roach. You might know he's—”
“Manager of The Crash,” Pat spurted out. The corner of Barry Roach's mouth twitched up.
“Yes, well done. Barry, this is Antinomy– I've high hopes for them as I'm sure you'll understand– ah, Nick, Simon, ah, Pat and John.”
“Ron,” I interjected.
“Oh yes! I do apologise. Ron. Get those two names confused often. Ron.” McCluskey bounced his palm off his forehead. We all shook Roach's hand whilst he declared that it was nice to meet us. McCluskey turned back to Roach and continued the conversation.
We went to the green room to put our kit down. Several minutes later, Roach walked in followed by the four members of The Crash. Pat coughed in his beer and I felt like the night had just started. This band had only been around for under a year but with only one EP already they were heroic; the look and sound of a new era. I knew they didn’t know each other before Roach had brought them together, but it didn’t show; they looked comfortable together and imbued with success and potential, they were everything I wanted us to be. Introduced by Roach we all shook hands with vigour. I got talking to their singer, Jon, about our backgrounds and the night ahead. He was a relaxed guy, and smiled more than I expected. I saw Pat saying something and another member – Mike – laughing. Ron sat by Simon as he tuned up his guitar in a corner.
The evening grew on and the speakers started up as people flowed into the building, shouting and calling to one another. Pretty soon there was a crush around the bar as men and women fought to get to the front. It was all very active, with undertones of violence, but without any true malice. Nobody wanted to ruin the evening. There was an electricity in the air that felt like the calm before a storm, making your skin prick and your hair rise.
We played second, after Sex Toys. The crowd were getting warmed up; there was movement at the front, but they were still spaced out, with people standing at the perimeter clutching drinks and bobbing their spiky heads. After a quick changeover we were announced and went on stage. The lights hurt my eyes: I hadn't realised before how they shine them directly at you. My ears were too hot and my throat was a mixture of dry and wet, moistened by Dutch courage. I cleared my throat and grabbed the mic, then shouted out the best words that I could think of to stir the crowd. There were a few cheers and we launched into song 7 as McCluskey had recommended; loud and fast, good opener.
But before I started to sing I could tell something was wrong. Pat's opening chords sounded all incorrect, and as I looked over at him I could tell he could hear it too. Still trying to play, he looked at me and mouthed something.
“What's wrong?” I mouthed back. He mouthed the same thing again but I could tell what it was. I shrugged and eyebrowed him until he clamped his hand over his strings and yelled across the stage,
“The tuning’s all buggered on this!” His voice was high pitched as he looked down at it. “It’s not even my bloody guitar!”
The crowd booed and my stomach went icy. I squinted at the offending instrument and called, “Is it the one from the last set?”
Pat ran off stage. The boos grew louder and someone yelled “Amateurs!”
Simon shouted back even louder, “Ahh fuck off, you couldn't do no better.” There was laughter until someone else called, “Least we didn't lose a guitar,” followed by a “Maybe that fat cunt of a drummer sat on it!”
I gave an “Oi that's not necessary,” or something along those lines and Simon swore at them again. Ron was silent. Thankfully, Pat ran on stage at this point with the right guitar, saying something about idiot techies. The crowd cheered and there was a few “About fucking time,”s.
We charged into song 7 again, belting it out harder than we had before. It went great, we played as best we ever had; fear of the crowd made us push harder. At the end of the song their boos had shifted mostly to cheers, as we rushed into the next song. The rest went without a hitch.
After our set we had a pause backstage. I felt as if I was about to have a heart attack. McCluskey joined us and patted us all on the backs (literally and figuratively). He didn't mention our initial guitar misplacement and thinking on it now I’m not so sure it was the techie’s fault. But when we'd all caught our breath and got another beer, we went into the hall to enjoy the rest of the gig.
And enjoy it we did – it was bloody fantastic. The Crash played the best set (after ours of course). They played second to last, when the crowd were whipped up enough to reach their pogoing height, but not too drunk, wired or aggressive to be too messy and ruin the music. The band and I danced at the edge of the crowd until The Crash, when it was too irresistible to join in the crush of it. Simon and Pat were wide-pupilled and bouncing. I don't remember seeing Ron there though, but he always did get tired quite easily. (At school he used to hide and nap whilst the rest of us played football. I’d tell our teacher he was at the dentist. Given the amount of sweets he ate, the teacher always believed me).
But perhaps the real high point of the night came later on, when the last band had played and we were all sat in the green room, talking rubbish and finding out where the after-party was. The bassist from Fire! offered us some amphetamines tastefully laid out on a vinyl that I declined, preferring at that point to relax with a smoke. Barry Roach was there in a huddle with The Crash, and broke away from them to stand above us. His hair was messed, but apart from that had none of the sweat and beer residue that clung to the others in the room.
“Alright men, how did you find your first proper gig?” Our reply was as enthusiastic and positive as you can imagine and he continued. “Well, I've been talking to my lads and we've a proposition for you. Due to some,” here he cleared his throat, “legal difficulties, we're short a support act for a few dates on our tour that's coming up. So how would you like to fill the boots? Not all the dates, mind, but still, a few. Thoughts?” He smiled at us.
We were silent a second before looking at each other, then back at him. We didn't need to discuss it in the slightest.
“Barry, we'd be honoured to,” I said in the most dignified voice I could muster, as I stood up and slapped him on the arm.
“Oh but there is one thing,” he added slowly, turning slightly towards me. “You lot are still in desperate need of a manager. And if you're coming on this trip with us, why, it makes sense for it to be me.” Longer pause now.
“Can we discuss it?” I asked. “We were just going to manage ourselves.”
He laughed. “Oh god, you do need me if you think you can do that. Come now, there's nothing to discuss really. This is a win-win opportunity, can't you see that? … Unless you don't want to play with us, which of course, is your prerogative.”
I shrugged and shook his hand. “Deal.”
Roach smiled, white teeth glimmering in the striplight. He waved The Crash over. He raised his can of Tennent's. “Well, here's to a beautiful relationship, men!”
I'm pretty sure that's how it went. My ears were still ringing at that point, and I'd had a fair bit to drink.
You'll have to excuse me if I don't go into too much detail about our brief foray with The Crash. Those two weeks that we spent with them weren't so much a blur as more a muddy smudge; an obscure, dotted space, drunk, smoked and powdered away in my memory that I don't think I'll ever quite fill out, hell, no matter how hard I try. Don't think that I mourn the loss at all though, I wouldn’t do it any different; it was probably the best time we ever had together as a band, maybe our lives.
The worst part was the travelling between gigs, but even that wasn't that bad as we didn't have to go very far. There was no glamour about the bus (this tour was before The Crash became the legends that they are today) but no-one cared, in fact I think we'd rather have had it that way. It was a tinny silver box, with limp red curtains and no seatbelts. It could be pretty unpleasant lurching about on the road feeling worse for wear the morning after the night before, stomach flopping about every time the tyres went over a bump, wanting unavailable water. But we were always laughing: I remember one time Jon handcuffed (he said he nicked them off a policeman after a gig) our Simon to the arm of his seat whilst he was catching forty winks. Christ, the look on his face when he woke up and saw was so priceless that we all cracked up and couldn't stop. Simon ranted and raged all the way to the next stop but Jon wouldn't unlock them. Simon punched him damn hard in the shoulder when he did get free. I saw him buying Jon a drink later.
Jon let slip why they’d needed a replacement support: two of the members of the previous guys were in hospital. The police had busted at 3am a party in a studio that they were at and they’d panicked and swallowed their whole stash, the bag opening or dissolving in their stomach and sending them, heavily overdosed, into an ambulance.
We had a few fans following us about, which was a rather exhilarating first for us, but The Crash guys handled it a bit more smoothly. The fans were sweet, really, in their own aggressive way and some even gushed over us as well as the others. Pat, typical Pat, copped off with one of them in Milton Keynes and she followed us for the best part of a week before she was tugged back home by her mother. She was a nice girl I think, really liked to party. Pat said she looked a bit like Sissy Spacek, but with dark hair and worse teeth.
Of course, also accompanying us was Barry Roach. He was surprisingly quiet, and when he did talk, you could tell he'd thought about what to say from the way that he paced his words. Most of the time he sat at the back of the bus, sunglasses on, reading 'zines. That's not to say he was straight-laced though: he gave us a lot of our ideas for a fracas and never frowned when we broke things and he had to foot the bill. Hell, he encouraged our antics, even in public, especially if there were cameras around. We saw a bit of press, mostly from smaller papers for reviews and the like, and a few music 'zines. They asked us, Antinomy, a few questions a couple of times, that I answered with Simon by my side. Simon had really taken to the look: when we weren't onstage in our grey suits he wore a few things he'd got at McCluskey's shop, a pair of leather trousers he'd found somewhere in Luton and a jacket he borrowed off Mike, The Crash's guitarist. Roach had helped him dye his hair red, both drunk, in one of the hotel bathrooms. It'd stained the bath terribly, with a rippling red swathe of dye that looked like someone had been murdered (I think a few of the cleaning girls did believe we had) but nobody really cared.
The best gig of the tour, well of the eight that we played at, was the one in Northampton, which was the third-to-last one for us. I say it was the best one, but I could be wrong as it's the one we all least remember, apart from an incredible sense of euphoria that lasted from the end all through the night to the next day. We'd settled in and knew what we were doing, had a good synergy with the other boys, but weren't as tired as we were on the last few days. Crowd was great I'm pretty sure; it was our biggest venue and I heard it almost sold out. The stage was capacious but the audience could stand around three sides of it, which meant that it still felt quite intimate and up-close. At the end of our set I hurled myself into them and was tossed about a little before I fell down towards their boots; I came out with blood smeared around my grin.
We returned home after two weeks on a drizzling Saturday evening. The bus dropped us off by Kentish Town Tube station and Roach got out with us too.
“Well, I said this all last night, but again, fantastic job you lot,” Roach was sheltered from the drizzle as he stood in the lee of the bus, but it fell into our eyes as we squinted at him in the orange dusk. “I'll give you a call in about a week, Nick, and we'll arrange getting some recording done. Keep practising in the meantime though; you'll need it.”
He shook each of our hands and climbed back onto the bus. The doors creaked shut and it chugged off, The Crash all waving and swearing out of the windows. We all waved back and Simon threw a can towards them that caught in the wind and clacked against a lightpost. We stood in silence for a minute as we watched the bus drive out of view as it merged into the traffic. Ron hugged his anorak closer around him.
I cleared my throat. “I think we can all feel proud of what we just achieved, my friends,” I declared, deliberately pompous. “Now, I suggest a few drinks and perhaps a good meal before we call it an night?”
“There's a great gaff round the corner from here that does a mean pie,” replied Simon.
Ron shook his head, muttering something along the lines of: “Actually fellas I'd rather not... I think I'll head home. Not really up for it to be honest, too tired.”
Simon and I made encouraging noises, but Ron shook his head. “Nah, nah, besides, I told my mother I'd be home this eve, she said she made tea for me.” We laughed at that. Ron thrust his hands into his pockets looked at Pat.
Pat shuffled his feet and coughed. “I think I might head home too, sorry. Feelin’ pretty beat.” He looked it: the first week he’d given it his all but by the second, stamina depleted, he spent most of the time with tea in his paw rather than a can. My body and brain felt pretty battered too, but I revelled in it with masochistic joy.
Simon and I looked at each other; he raised his eyebrows and I shrugged in return. We said our goodbyes and walked off towards the King's Arms.
The week passed sluggishly but we practised just as Roach had asked us to. For the most part we used the room above McCluskey's shop as Roach had arranged it. Luckily McCluskey had installed a set of instruments at his place so we didn't have to lug our heavy kit around too much. There were a couple of days though when another sullen-faced new band was using it, forcing us to make the trek back to Ron's. Ron had caught a nasty cold when we saw him, so wasn't on his best form; didn't want to play at all, but we persuaded him. He – we – didn't have a choice. There was a constant dripping noise in Ron’s garage now from a loose tap; we tried to fix it, very stoned, but only succeeded in breaking it. His pa gave him a right earful.
The days when we weren't together I spent doing some shifts at the cinema where I worked occasionally, operating the projection reels for films. The band had been given some cash for the tour but my rent still needed paying. But when I could I fitted in some proper songwriting. I enlisted Pat's help a little for this, I have to confess, as my knowledge of musical theory was so minimal that I had trouble knowing what to put down for the musical part. Before we'd just used a rough-and-ready, “Okay, you play that bit now, those chords then etc,” method that relied more on memory than anything put on paper. But Roach said that in order to have some productive recording, we needed something more physically material to rely on. I mainly came up with the lyrics. Our favourite song was called 'Everybody's Scared' (by that time we had managed to come up with some titles) and was a culture-attacking, shout infused tour-de-force (even if I do say so myself.) We fitted in a love song, Pat inveigled me into it really, called 'Prostitute'.
The week passed and I received the telephone call from Roach telling us that we needed to come to the recording studio he'd booked for us. I rounded the band up and we arrived at the given address in Hackney. It was on a quiet road off the high street, sandwiched in between a dentist and a boarded-up shop. The words 'Richbacker Studio' were emblazoned in yellow on a grey background on the front, above a pair of glass double-doors. Ron hadn't arrived yet, on account of living further away than us, but we went in anyway. The receptionist looked up as we entered, inquiring if she could help us.
“Yes, we're Antimony, here with Barry Roach?” I replied. My mouth itched.
“Oh wonderful, well he's here already, if you want to go through that door to your left, he should be in there.” She gestured towards a solid wood door.
I nodded, thanked her and we shuffled through the doorway. Roach was indeed inside; it looked like a sort of rest room, with mustard-yellow wallpaper – the kind that looks like it’s been pasted over a thousand dead insects – and grey carpet, with a couple of sofas, a radio and kettle-sink area. But Roach wasn't alone: he was talking quietly with two other people. The first was a man about my age, wearing a ripped vest, black trousers with metal hoops hanging from the belt and a dangerous-looking pair of boots. His hair was shaved into a Mohawk style that rose about a handspan high, and I noticed a few words tattooed onto his upper arm. He had his arms crossed and was nodding intently to whatever Roach was saying. The second was a woman, or girl; she had her back to me. The door slammed behind us as we entered and they turned around to look at us. Now I could see the girl: she was a few years younger than me, but it was hard to tell from all the make-up she had on her face. She wore a pair of tartan hotpants with fishnet stockings, and a chequered top with some slogan on it. Her hair too was time-consuming, in a big, black messy way: I thought I could spot a couple of dreadlocks forming at the back. She smiled at us as we came in, and it revealed that she was actually rather pretty when she wasn't glaring.
Roach threw us a wide smile and slapped his hands together.
“You're here, excellent, excellent.” He advanced a little towards us. “Excited? Nervous?” He didn't wait for a reply before continuing, “Now, I've got a couple of people here I'd like you to meet,” he ushered them forward. “This is Lance,” he said, putting his hand on the man's shoulder.
Pat gave a small cough and out of the corner of my eye I could see a smirk sneaking around his mouth.
He introduced the girl; “And this is Sue.” We murmured our “Nice to meet you”s and shook hands. Lance said nothing, but nodded his head towards us. The purple points of his hair wafted slightly where they'd strayed from their more regimented fellows. Sue smiled at Pat.
“This is Antinomy; Nick, Simon, Pat and... Where's Ron?” Roach asked.
“He's on his way, don't worry, he'll be here any minute,” I said quickly.
“Oh don't worry, that's no problem, no problem at all,” he replied, breezily. That puzzled me: I remember him yelling at us whilst on tour for being five minutes late for practice before a gig.
“Well, I know that hiring rooms here must be expensive, so...” I probed. He smiled again and shook his head.
“Yes, but I consider it a worthy investment. Besides... Lance here is a very good drummer, he can always fill in for a bit before Ron gets here.”
“Ron will be here soon,” I repeated.
“Yes, but until then.” He stated. I knew it wasn't a request. “Actually,” he continued, taking out his wallet; “I think we could all use a good cuppa first – Pat, would you mind just going round the corner to get a few? There's a good caff not too far away, can't remember the name, I'm sure you'll see it. Whoever wants one, my treat.”
He pushed some silver pence into Pat's palm before he could protest. Pat looked at me and I shrugged. Pat turned around and left without saying anything.
Roach waited until he heard the front door close before talking. “I thought we could try a few new songs with two guitarists.”
A small spark of alarm sounded off somewhere in my brain. “We already have two guitarists,” I said in a flat tone.
“Technically no. I mean two lead guitars. And the bass in addition, of course. Would really create a bigger sound; something new. And I think the addition of a female would definitely give you more... edge.”
“Oh, so that's what Sue's here for?”
Blood rushed to the girl's cheeks and she went as red as her exposed brazier strap. She twisted her feet and picked at her nail polish. Roach nodded. “Mhm, nothing permanent yet, just see how it goes.”
I could see it was more than a suggestion. “No harm trying them out together,” I relented, not keen to pick a fight on the first day.
“Shall we then?” Roach gestured towards the practice room and headed to the door.
“Should we not wait for Pat?” I asked.
“He'll be here soon, we can start without him. Hiring this place is expensive, as you said.” His tone was relaxed, but I still felt the first few pricklings of unease shiver their way up my spine.
Simon picked up his guitar and we moved into the next room to set up. Sue took hers from where it had been waiting and Lance sat behind the drumkit. We played a few songs; Roach must have taught them some of ours, as they picked it up remarkably quickly. As loathe as I was to admit it at the time, Sue and Lance were decent players.
About a quarter of an hour into it, a pink Pat pushed the door open and walked in backwards, carrying a box of cardboard tea cups.
“Cheers for waiting; sorry I took so long, I don't know what caff you meant Barry but I couldn't find it anywhere, had to go all the way up–” He stopped speaking as he straightened up from putting the tea down and saw us. “Oh, you started without me.”
I felt myself blushing before Barry spoke with a smile on his face, “Pat, well done, good job. Yes, thought we might as well crack on – Sue is going to be playing with you for experiment’s sake.”
Pat blinked and took a sip of tea. He looked at Sue, who met his gaze.
“You'll do all the main bits, don't worry,” she mumbled.
Pat said nothing before fetching his guitar. He threw the strap over his shoulder and stood next to Sue. “Unless anyone does actually want any tea, we might as well start then.”
Ron arrived eventually and replaced Lance behind the drums. My heart sunk when I heard Ron play; whether it was the stress and rush, or his being ill, or if it was simply because we heard him after Lance – I'm not sure. But he didn't play as well as I'd hoped he would. I looked over at Roach after the second ill-rhythmed song and he was frowning, but there was still a certain up-turn in his eyes. After, Ron was sweating and I could tell he had a cold from the congested groan of his voice and the lingerings of snot trails on his sleeves. He said something about a bus being late, or missing the bus, I couldn't even tell at the time.
We all left after many hours hard work. Pat's finger calluses were bleeding a little and my throat hurt, but Lance still looked fresh as he slipped his sunglasses on when we went outside into the dusk.
There was another session the next day. Ron didn't turn up at all, but … luckily… Lance was there to play in his place. I telephoned Ron when I got in in the evening. He answered in a sniffing croak when his father fetched him. “Hello?”
“Evening Ron, Nick here.” I asked him where he'd been, being careful not to sound angry.
“I just felt too ill, Nick, I'm very sorry. I didn't think I'd be any good. Besides, you had that Lance fellow there, he was much better than me. I'll be there tomorrow, promise.”
Ron didn't turn up the next day, or the day after.
On the third day of his absence, Roach gathered us round before we started.
“Ron isn't here again. I am sorry, but I have to make an executive decision. Lance is going to play on the album instead of him. I apologise, I know he is your friend, but we have to go forward.” Roach didn't sound that sorry. Pat and I made some protesting noises, saying Ron was just ill and not up to it at the moment, but we knew it was no good. Roach was our manager; he controlled us; and Lance was better than Ron. We needed to start recording if the album was to get made, if we were to get made.
I called Ron later after the session. Roach had already told him the news; at least I didn't have to do that. His cold must have still been bad; his voice was choked and soft.
“I am really sorry, Ron, there was nothing we could do. Roach – he made up his mind.”
“It’s fine Nick. I understand. It’s fine. You'll be better off without me anyway; a lump like me was never meant to be in a punk band. That Lance fellow – you'll do well with him.”
I couldn't say much back. The calm resignation in his voice was something I couldn't counter. Ron went on to say that it'd be better for him; his health had suffered a lot on tour and he'd been meaning to go visit his Nan in Stoke, who hadn't been well either. The affected cheer in his voice didn't appease my guilt.
We got into doing actual recording pretty much straight away with Lance in position. It took longer than I expected; Roach would stop us all the time to make adjustments. We managed to get three done in the first week, including the main track, 'Underground Gas'. Pat and Sue played together on that one, as they did with another. The shortest track that we planned to do, coming out at under two minutes, Pat got to do solo. They worked together well I thought, or at least Pat seemed to put more effort in now.
Recording went well until the second week, when Roach proposed that Sue played on her own for track four, 'Prostitute'.
“It’s a simpler track. Needs cleaner lines, less reverb, more tonality,” (whatever that meant) “And I think a female voice for verse two would be something special.” He explained.
Pat and I didn’t have any counter argument, so we let her play on her own. It was a good song, but Pat was quiet for the rest of the day. Roach told us afterwards that we would have a break for a day – he had to go to Brighton on business.
When I came back to the studio two days later I could immediately tell something was wrong. The lady at the front desk waved me in as always, but when I went through the door I saw Simon in a state like none I'd ever seen before; he was moving about, tight-lipped, his face red and moist. Roach was there already, touching his arm and speaking slowly.
“Simon, Simon, keep it simple. Where's Pat?”
“He – he's in... the cops have him. At the station still.” Simon wouldn't make eye contact with Roach.
“Sit down and tell us what happened.” Roach's voice quietly washed over the room in a commanding wave. Simon sat down, lit a cigarette and began to talk steadily.
“It was all Pat’s idea. He’d come to my door yesterday eve, wired up to the eyeballs, whiskey in one hand, bag in the other. He’d even cut ‘is fucking hair off, would you believe it. He was going on and on about having a plan, doing something crazy – Yeah Pat that’s the right word – wanted to show that he could kick it, had something in ‘im. Said something about Ron. To be honest, he was jabbering. Anyway I followed him, he couldn’t be let down in that state, and to be honest with ya, I was curious. We got on a bus to Acton Street, to Volt HQ.”
I should say that Volt Records were the group who had signed us for this album. Small company, but definitely part of something bigger.
“Well we got there after several wrong turns. I’d taken the drink off of Pat, he certainly didn’t bloody need it. Pat broke a window open, cut his arm open, which he relished, yelling something about ‘No Future’. He climbed in but I stayed outside … I passed him his bag and he took out it some paint, gloss wall paint in coral orange, would you believe it? He was making a hell of a noise too, banging into shit. Wrote ‘Capitalist Pigs’ across the wall.”
“Couldn't he have thought of something a bit better than that crap?” Lance butted in. No-one answered.
“… Well we were about ready to leave when I heard a siren, no wonder someone heard and called the rozzers. Just our luck this is the one time they’re quick. I tried to get Pat out but I think the window was higher on his side and he was panicking. I’m not proud of it, but I ran, not proud of it. They didn’t see me. They got him.”
There was a silence in the room after he finished. None of us knew what to say. I was amazed Pat would do anything that incautious, reckless. Lance fiddled with his guitar pegs. Sue had sat down and was staring very closely at her feet. I think she whispered, “Poor Pat.” I couldn’t see her eyes. Girls always go soft on Pat.
After a few minutes of stiff silence Simon got up and said loudly, “It was fun whilst it lasted though. Just a shame he got caught.” He laughed and looked at Roach, who inclined his head, face thick with thought. “Pretty, aha, rock 'n' roll,”
Roach cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together. “I better use the telephone, call the company, hopefully they won't be pressing charges against one of their own.”
Roach took the telephone call in the next room, out of earshot. I stood up and went over to the door, but the clapboard wood was as soundproof. I lit a cigarette and sat back down. Simon collapsed into the seat next to me and ran his hands through his hair. When Roach came back a minute later his face was impassive. “Well the good news, boys, is that Pat isn't any trouble; it was private property after all and Volt isn't pressing any charges against the lad.” He cleared his throat. “The bad news is... Pat's off the album.”
My stomach twisted as I felt the heat of disappointment and frustration wash over my body, but dulled; without surprise. Roach's statement affirmed the suspicion I'd had ever since I walked into the recording studio and seen the others there. Clenching my jaw against all the involuntary outbursts that screamed to be said, I let a “No,” fall from my lips.
“What!” Simon shouted, a dot of spit shooting onto the carpet. Sue looked up at Roach, and Lance carried on fiddling with his guitar.
“They say he's too much of a liability. He broke some sentimental piece of memorabilia; the boss wasn't happy. I did try.”
Simon opened his mouth and shut it again, shook his head, breathed and said “Sure, right.”
I sighed, knowing that any argument now would be as impotent as the air seeping from my mouth to be lost in the room. The strings under Lance's insistent fingers pinged and I wanted to scream at him and smack the wretched instrument from his hands... but I didn't.
“We'll keep the two songs he's done – we're fine with that,” Roach continued. “Just... no more.”
Needless to say, the band, well – Simon and I – weren't in the best of spirits for the rest of that day, and the music we played was shoddy. Sue did well though; she knew all of Pat's parts almost perfectly.
Simon and I went to Pat's flat, a little place above a bakery, afterwards. As we were waiting for Pat to answer our knock, Simon said to me, “I didn’t want to say in front of that Roach, but Pat was getting shook up over the album. With Sue and all… he knew he was going the way of Ron. And he could never handle that stuff. Wanted to prove himself.”
Pat looked terrible when he opened the door; his lips were chapped, there were purple bags under his red eyes, a bruise on his forehead and he smelt of gin. His once-long hair had been cut off and I could tell he had done it himself.
“Hello,” he croaked.
I'd always liked going to Pat's place; it was decorated nicely, as if a woman lived there, and a faint smell of pasties hung in the air. Today it was a mess. He moved some clothes off the couch and we sat down.
“Heard the news?” I asked. Pat nodded. He looked so forlorn.
“At least you aren't getting banged up, pal. You wouldn't survive!” Simon said, his artificial chuckle hanging in the stale air. Pat nodded again. I patted him on the arm. Then we sat in silence.
Simon broke it by jumping to his feet and shouting, “This is bloody ridiculous,”
“Calm down Si,” I said quietly.
“No, fuck that. Roach couldn't have been happier that Pat got the sack,”
“I deserved it,” Pat whispered. “I tried to be something I'm not and I messed up.” He sniffed. “I tried so hard. I wanted us to stay together, like when we were younger. That’s all this was about for me. I didn’t want to get pushed out. I’m sorry.” He moved to stroke his hair, but finding it absent, screwed up his eyes.
“Shut up Pat, that's bollocks,” Simon carried on, “It's that Roach's fault, he was pressuring you from the start.” Pat just shrugged and wiped his nose.
Simon was still striding about the room, shaking his head. “He can't treat you – Or us – this way. Even Ron –” We all flinched at the name. “– Didn't deserve it.”
“We can talk to him tomorrow. I think we were too... shocked... to argue today,” I said. “Tell him. Tell him that we're the musicians, we get to say who's in the band. Doesn't matter if Pat isn't quite the 'fit' that he wants, he's essential.”
Simon agreed. “Thank you,” said Pat.
My heart ached for my friend. Everything about him glared that he was a man physically and spiritually beaten.
The next day at the studio we didn't broach the subject. I had planned to, but I could tell from the moment Roach walked in this was not a good day to push him: he drank coffee constantly, shades set firmly on his face, and shouted at us more than normal. We managed to record a song; technically almost flawless, but it just didn't feel as good as it should have, and Roach could tell. His frustration bled into ours, and both Simon and I knew that any confrontation would be the final straw.
But we had the courage at the beginning of the next day; he seemed to be calmer, and we knew the later we left it, more futile our task would be.
“Sure, boys, what can I help you with?”
“It's, well, It's about Pat.”
Frown lines immediately indented themselves around his mouth. I continued before he could say anything. “We’d really like for you to have another talk with the record company. It's just not the same vibe without him – or Ron–” (small wince) “– we'd really like to have Pat back.”
“He doesn't have to play on every song,” Simon attempted, “Just... most of them, y'know?”
Barry shook his head slowly. “Nope, no, I cannot see them changing their mind. They seemed very set.”
“Please just try?” I hated the pleading, desperate note in my voice, but Roach's crossed-arm resolution required it.
“No, I said no. The decision is final.” He turned his back and walked away to the kettle. We stood immobile as I tried to calculate what the best move was.
“The greasy fucker,” Simon growled before striding over to him. He tapped his shoulder forcefully. “We weren't finished,” he declared. Roach turned around, raising his eyebrows. Simon stood close to him– Simon was taller, but their faces were right next to each other. “It’s Pat in the band or nothin’!” he shouted.
This statement was as much as a shock to me as it was to Roach.
“You heard me, nothin’. I’ll walk out, so will Nick, without us there’s no band. So it’s Pat in this album or nothin’ at all. Nothing.” He waved his hands and was quiet, blood rushing to his face. I stood without making a noise too – I could feel Roach’s eyes on me, but had no response for them.
Simon turned to me as well, and said: “Right, Nick?”
I didn’t want nothing. “Right. Pat or nothing.”
Simon turned back to Roach and carried on glaring. Roach was still facing me, his black eyes piercing into mine.
“Well then, fine.” Roach said finally. “Nothing.”
It took a few seconds for his deadpan words to reach my panicked brain, but when they did the shock went through me immediately. It was an iceberg that settled in my stomach and shot chilling tendrils all the way to my fingers and rung in my head.
“What?” said Simon and I. My voice was a rasping, squeaking whisper, his a shout that echoed through the ventilation systems of the building.
“You heard me. Nothing. You get nothing. No album, no contract. My decisions are always final.” His face was white.
I knew the ultimatum was bold but I hadn't expected Roach to be bolder and now I felt horribly sick. It was a struggle to speak, my cold blood making me shake. “Hey hey, now, let’s not be rash, surely we can fit in some sorta compromise?”
“No.” Roach wasn’t yelling. His voice was low and steady. “You aren’t working here anymore. Get out. Now.”
I tried to say more, I could feel the words I needed, but Roach just pointed to the door and shook his head. Simon grabbed his guitar and jacket and left, slamming the door upon exit. I was slower, first looking from Lance and Sue – who both had their eyes firmly trained on Roach – to his stony face. I grabbed my bag and left. The howling November wind was warm on my cheeks.
Barry Roach called me that evening. I didn't hang up immediately, although I was sorely tempted. I knew he wasn't calling to apologise.
“Good Evening, Nick. How are you?” His voice slithered through the mouthpiece.
“What is it Roach?”
“Now, now my lad, don't be cross. Antimony –”
“– may be finished, but that doesn't mean you are. I see things in people, you know, and I see something in you. I'd like to re-sign you – not with the band, but solo.” He paused, waiting for a response that he didn't receive. “I think you'd make a good solo artist, perhaps do some guest work with a few bands, get some records put down, that sort of thing.” He waited. “Well? I know you must feel a sense of loyalty to your little friends, but this is the real world. The music business. If you want to make it, you have to seize opportunities, just like the one I'm giving you now. Well?”
I stood there in my hallway, staring at the receiver. At the time, the decision was easy.
“No thank you.”
“Are you sure? My boy, you're really being very foolish.” I could hear his breath. “Foolish indeed. Well, you have my number. If you change your mind...” I hung up.
So that's how it happened. How I got from there to here. I don’t even know what happened to the songs we managed to record. I received a cheque through my letterbox that I was tempted to throw away but cashed because I needed the money. I’ve got through a few jobs, a few classes, and ended up quite comfortably in the postal service. No late nights for me anymore, that's for certain. Why didn't we reform without Roach or the record company? Well... we could have found a new drummer, but I don't think any of us much fancied it any more. It was too hard. We knew it came with the job description, but it was the personal heartlessness that we just hadn't expected. I know that Pat stopped watching Top of the Pops, anyway.