Chapter 4: October 1998
Carlito bounces out of his seat.
“You need to tell Fen you’re here.”
I want to get up but I don’t know if I can stand. Maybe it’s the long journey, maybe it’s something else.
It’s something else.
I focus on breathing evenly. I stand without letting anyone else know it’s an effort. I follow Chambers into the live room at the back of the pub.
And that’s where we meet Carlito’s sound engineer. He’s six and a half feet tall and covered in tattoos. I see the archangel Michael fighting the devil on one arm and the words Accident Prone on the side of his neck. We wait for him to acknowledge us. When he does, we try to tell him who we are.
“Come back later,” he snaps.
Chambers and I return to the bar. We shouldn’t have come.
Not that Carlito sees it that way. He acts like he’s known us forever. Like our home is his home. He tells us to move our car into the yard at the back of the pub and introduces us to the other bands as they arrive.
They ignore us.
By seven o’clock, there’s a queue outside the pub. Everyone’s soundchecked apart from me and Chambers. Then the doors to the live room swing open. Fen stares out at us. His tattoos are almost three-dimensional.
“Your turn,” he says.
He looks like he wants to kick our heads in.
The stage is already full with the other bands’ gear. We squeeze into what space we can find and plug in.
“You’ve got one minute,” Fen tells us.
Chambers plays a chord. Fen cuts him off, before taking the same rapid-fire approach to testing my guitar, both our voices, and then all four parts mixed together.
“That will do,” Fen says, “you’re on in five.”
Fen leaves the room. Chambers and I stay where we are, taking in our surroundings. A box of a room with nothing on the walls apart from the wear and tear of years gone by. The floorboards must be saturated with the sweat of band after band after band. I feel claustrophobic trapped in the middle of the kit onstage. I want to smash it all to pieces, get it out of my way.
Fen’s back in the room.
He does this wave that means two things. One, we should start. Two, he doesn’t give a fuck about us.
Nor does anyone else.
There are exactly zero people watching.
I can hear the music blaring from the speakers next door.
I start to play. Chambers’ vocals flap around the room like birds let loose. A guy comes into the room and I stare at him until he turns around and leaves. Then Carlito comes in. I stare at him too but he stands his ground.
Chambers and I sing together.
“If you can’t hear, you can’t fear the noise.”
“I light a match.”
“There are doors leading to doors leading to doors.”
When it’s over, Carlito bounces in our direction. I’m not quite back in the real world and so he seems crazier than ever. He’s like the human version of strobe lighting. I can’t look at him.
But I feel his buzz.
He likes us.
He thinks we’re good.
Not that I care what people think about us.