Everyone knows that the music business is terribly competitive. London is traditionally the heart of it but, for a time in the seventies, Herefordshire was even more competitive.
The reason for this was the shortage of good musicians, making local bands compete for the ones that were around. Guitarists were relatively common, everyone wanted to sing, but drummers were desperately rare. The inevitable result of this was lengthy drum solos, which bands had to allow so as not to antagonise their scarce resource, even though no one could dance to them and many spectators started getting restive. In those days bands played mostly in pub’s back rooms, pretended to be folk groups to get into folk clubs and pretended to be dance bands to get into OAP nights; anything to get a booking, irrespective of how pleased the audience were to listen to them.
Then the news came that Hereford was to have its own nightclub. Before this, if you wanted a late night experience, you would have to know someone who could drive who would take you to Worcester, where “Sashas” provided the one beacon of anaglypta sophistication.
Now the musicians of the county of Herefordshire were rocked with the news that now they would have one of their own. After the momentary excitement, for one band, which called itself Odin’s Ravens, despondency set in. They had heard themselves practice and they knew that they were no way good enough to get the nightclub residency. They would be lucky to get a brief slot on an open mike night.
While their guitar work was more or less together and they had a very charming female singer in Eva Austin, they had no drummer. At the moment Gaffer, the rhythm guitarist, banged on the floor with his foot. Since he was also trying to concentrate on playing the right chords, the beat all too often went completely to hell.
“There’s no point in trying. We’ll only embarrass ourselves.” said Gaffer.
“Bloody hell, that’s no fair!” said Eva. “We’re good enough. We just need a proper drummer.”
“Well, we aint got one.” said Dave the bass player. They are always quick on the uptake.
“And we can’t get one cos there aren’t any.”
“It’s a shame. We’d be the best band in the county if we had a proper drummer.”
Without mentioning it to each other they knew they had one great rival, Cwn Annwn, the Dogs of Hell. Not only did they have a name that appealed to the celtic part of the audience, they also had a drummer, a good one. If Odin’s Ravens were to get anywhere they would either have to find a drummer or disable the Dog’s drummer. The entertainment industry was a dirty business.
In a very spooky happening, Gaffer ran into Tab, the Dog’s drummer in a pub that evening. Spooky unless you know the limited number of pubs in Hereford and the alcohol consumption of musicians. The conversation revolved around life in general and the drummer’s happiness with his band. No drummer is happy with his band but Tab’s general unhappiness revolved around his inability to attract girls.
Everyone knows girls are attracted to bands, but they have only eyes for the guitar players and singers. When Tab tried to sidle up to them during the lulls, most refused to accept that he was a member of the band, having no recall of having seen him.
Gaffer, from the course of the conversation, deduced that, should he be able to provide Tab with a girlfriend, there was a possibility that Tab would be so grateful he would defect to the Ravens. He went home to have a word with his sister. It seemed the obvious solution.
However she did not see the wonderful opportunity that this presented. “I’m not going anywhere near that unwashed moron.”
“He does wash, sometimes. I’m sure of it.”
“If you want a drummer why don’t you get a good one? What about that Third Lanark?”
Gaffer whistled at the enormity of the suggestion. “I’d never get him. Anyway, he’s all washed up.”
“Washed up he’s still a better drummer than that Tab.”
Gaffer knew that Lanark was of course a better drummer. His former band had had a number one hit, but success had gone sour. Christened John, it was inevitable that, with the surname Lanark, he would be called Third Lanark at school, after the football team that featured in the football results their fathers listened to with dreams of football pool fortunes, even though no one was quite clear which Scottish League it played in.
It was not a bad name as far as school nicknames went and he had been happy for it to carry on after school. But one of the members of the group he had found success with was Irish, with that nationality’s inability to pronounce the Saxon “th”. Being called “Turd” repeatedly had got on Lanark’s nerves and, as musical differences within the band, became a bigger feature with their success, he had finally snapped.
It had been on a Radio 1 Roadshow that the trouble had come to a head, in front of ten thousand hyped up teenagers and an unspecified radio audience, the Irishman had called him by his nickname live on air and Lanark had wrapped a microphone cable around the man’s neck until pulled off by a pack of roadies.
It was generally accepted that that was his resignation note to the band. He became a recluse. He had enough money for that. Rumour had it that he was somewhere up in the Welsh Hills.
Encouraged by his sister’s slippers narrowly missing his head as he made his way downstairs, Gaffer decided to make a search. He started asking around the people he knew in the local music business. No one would tell him anything useful and most warned him off the quest. The man was bad news. Attempting to kill fellow band members was one thing, but to do it on stage was seen as unprofessional.
The only lead he got was someone who knew of a woman who had once been close to Lanark. She lived out beyond Kington in the remote village of Hergest. In the crowded and smoky small pub in Kington he had no difficulty in spotting her, sitting in the corner smoking roll-ups and drinking a pint of beer, all activities the local ladies of thirty-something rarely indulged in.
“Hi! Can I have a quick word?” She indicated a vacant seat without looking up, which Gaffer felt was a bit ominous.
“I’m looking for Lanark. Third Lanark?”
She looked at him. She had deep black eyes, not quite a squint but disconcerting. “Why?”
“I’m in a band. We need a drummer.”
The look she gave him he had not received since he was a first former and he had come to the attention of some prefects. “He doesn’t play with amateurs.”
“It’s not like that.”
“It never is.”
“But we’re serious. We want to go for the residency at the new nightclub in Hereford. We’re good enough. We just need a drummer.”
“Lanark does not play in public anymore.”
“Has he lost it?”
She looked at him angrily. “You never lose it. Only that you see through the vanity of public acclaim. He does not have anything to prove anymore.”
“We have. We could put him back in the big time.”
Now she only laughed. “Come on.” said Gaffer. “Every musician still wants to know he can still do it.”
She looked at him. There was a slight smile on her face. “If I see him I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”
That was how Gaffer found himself walking up a dirt drive. He was sweating and conscious of a rather large number of flies that seemed to be following him. Eventually he turned a corner and saw a small black and white cottage ahead of him.
He had not known that black and white cottages came so small. He had always thought of them as quite grand affairs for Londoners. This was little more than one up and one down. The door was ajar and he tentatively looked in.
“Who the hell are you?”
Gaffer jumped. “My name’s Gaffer. You Lanark?”
“What if it is?”
All his prepared speeches had gone out of the window. “I’m in a band. We need a drummer.”
The man turned away. “Go to hell.”
“Please. We’ll do anything.”
Lanark sneered. “There’s nothing you can do for me.”
Unhappy with the contempt he felt oozing out of the other man, though he was not too sure at whom it was directed, Gaffer was about to leave. “I’m sorry you feel that. I know how much pleasure I get from playing. I’m sorry you’ve lost that.”
“I have not lost it. That’s why I’m out here. So I can do it in peace.”
“But you can’t share it.”
Lanark laughed unpleasantly. “Amateur.”
“Ok, but at least we still have the pleasure of it.”
Lanark’s dark eyes pierced through Gaffer. “I’ll play with you then. Just to show you how crap you really are. That will take the pleasure out of it for you.”
“I call that a deal.” said Gaffer, before the other man changed his mind.
Gaffer was very nervous the next rehearsal night as he walked towards the hall where they practiced. He had told the others that Lanark was going to come, but one would be little more than a fool to put one’s trust in the word of a musician.
The others were already in the hall.
“He’s not come yet.” said Eva. There was a note of distrust in her voice.
“Let’s just get started. He’s got a long way to come.”
They played, but without any enthusiasm. Some time in Gaffer was concentrating on a difficult guitar riff when he realised that everybody else had stopped. He looked up and saw Lanark watching them from the doorway. The man turned and, for a horrible moment, Gaffer thought he was going to walk away. Instead he slouched into the room with part of his drum kit. The others rushed to help him and before long the whole thing had been set up.
In the silence that followed Lanark started knocking out a few rhythms and slowly the others picked it up. There was a new feeling of exhilaration following this regular heavy beat. They worked through some of their old numbers.
Soon Lanark had picked up what he needed to do and added some of his own developments. They had never played like it.
Gaffer was really looking forward to their next gig. It was only a village hall but he could not wait showing off their new sound to the people. They started playing. Again they felt them flying through the music with Lanark controlling them. But, when he looked out on the audience they were still busy dancing, drinking, even chatting. He thought they would have stopped and be staring in amazement.
After the gig Gaffer, rather dejected, was helping putting their stuff away. Lanark came up to him. “They didn’t even notice.”
“What did you expect?”
“We’ve never played better.”
“People only come to pick each other up. They don’t come to listen to us. Don’t worry about it. Anyway, I enjoyed it, didn’t you?”
So they carried on playing their little venues. At the end of one venue, as they were packing away their gear when a man came over to them. He proved to be a record producer, so the big times rolled and Gaffer found out why Lanark had lost the thrill of playing.