Murder most foul
During the late night interview with UFO’s Phil Mogg, I discover I saw a friend of Phil’s being murdered in Manor House when I was fifteen . . .
My own personal song of death and kisses is ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ by Otis.
It’s the one I remember most from that hot summer Saturday night in 1968 when I was fifteen and women were goddesses. There was a schizophrenic club above the Manor House pub at the junction of Green Lanes and Seven Sisters Road. On Friday it was called the Bluesville and showcased some of the hottest blues-rock bands in town, like John Mayall, Chicken Shack and, best of all, Ten Years After. The punters were hippies and local dudes like me, who loved a fast guitar and a puckered lip. I always wore jeans and a T-shirt and succumbed to the slick chords and heavy-duty four-play.
On Saturday nights the Bluesville slapped on a suit and tie and became the Downbeat, a juicy soul-searcher packed out with skins in mohair and girls you could occasionally dance with when you got a little pissed and Brenton Wood was waiting for the sign. There were also a lot of black guys there who also occasionally hit the Royal dancehall in Tottenham on a Thursday like drugstore truck driving men and sometimes met the wound-up, woolly-bully white boys head on. Black guys never got drunk. They didn't need booze to fuel their domain. They took the women and song away from the wine – it was their secret. Oh, and the fact that most of them could dance the hind legs off Nureyev.
The Downbeat was a place for a fifteen-year-old boy to grow up, and that night I shot up like fucking Godzilla.
There were three of us. Terry was a sixteen-year-old printing apprentice. Being a printer – especially on Fleet Street – in 1968 was a licence to print money and some of them even found time to do the knowledge and become black-cab drivers. Ray was twenty, the son of the caretaker on our estate. He worked for Robert Dyas and was handy for getting the drinks in.
These were the light-and-bitter days at two bob a throw. I had an after-school job cleaning a nearby office block every night. I was flush. My semi-hippie Friday clobber was replaced by the bespoke blue mohair three piece my Dad had bought me. Terry wore a pale green mohair suit and Ray, not a fashion god by any stretch of the imagination, had the suit he wore to work.
After several pints we headed out on the highway to the dance-floor. It was the third time I’d been to the Downbeat on a Saturday night and I’d never danced with anyone. None of us had. We’d stand on the edge of the floor and look at the girls and dream.
But tonight I was determined to walk out of my dreams and into my heart and as ‘Hold On I’m Coming’ segued gently into Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ I took my chance.
I entered the void...
Oh, she may be weary...
Would you like to dance?
Them young girls do get wearied . . .
What’s your name?
Wearing the same shabby dress . . .
I’ve got an aunt called Mary.
‘What’s your name?’
And when she gets wearied . . .
‘I’ve got a boyfriend called Barry.’
‘Only joking. How old are you?’
All you’ve got to do is try a little tenderness . . .
We suddenly kissed. It was my very first and when her tongue searched for mine I nearly fainted. That was the moment I realised I was tongue-tied: the membrane that attached my tongue to my mouth was at the front instead of the back and although I could welcome visitors I couldn’t make any house calls. I kept falling at the first, my bottom teeth.
I know she’s waiting, just anticipating . . .
In the end she gave up.
The thing that you’ll never, never, possess, no, no, no . . .
Three months later I had the unwanted flesh snipped during a five-day stay at the Royal Free Hospital. I assumed Mary was the only girl to have a slut tongue and I adored her for it. I thought of marriage and kids and a little house on the prairie before realising I was fifteen and in blue. I never saw her again.
As Terry, Ray and I walked out at closing time, down the long, wide flight of stairs that led from the club onto the Seven Sisters Road, I noticed that on either side of each step was a line of white dudes in suits – members of a notorious local mob – each one brandishing a
cutthroat razor, each one checking the punters, each one desirous of seeing twisted flesh and internal organs made external on these stairs with stares. I was shitting myself.
When I reached the bottom with my bollocks still intact, I asked a guy what was going on. He said it involved strangers and women. Don’t they all? Someone asked a girl he shouldn’t have to dance. When she refused he got stroppy. It was time to die.
‘Who’s the guy?’ I asked. ‘No fucking idea.’ He shrugged. ‘He’s with a couple of mates. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes for all the money in the world.’ I looked back up the stairs at the gamut of flashing blades and I knew what he meant. Suddenly, a guy came hurtling down the stairs and ran out of the door pursued by an army of razors. He managed to jump on the luckiest bus in the world as it sped past down the Seven Sisters Road into infinity. The number 38 saved his life that night.
The boys from the black stuff returned, disconsolately, to the club and waited like clay pigeon shooters for the next target. Sure enough, another guy − the one Phil Mogg knew − came bounding down the stairs. Alas, there was no bus, just a warm breeze and a heartful of soul.
He turned right. Wrong move. He turned right again into a quiet residential street. Really wrong move. About twenty or thirty guys were on his tail. Terry, Ray and I stayed outside the club. I was curious -- it was the latent journo in me. A few minutes later most of the guys strolled back to the club. They looked elated. Their work here was done.
The three of us decided to go and see what had happened. The guy was lying face-up in the gutter. A small crowd began to form and an ambulance pulled up. We stood just a few feet away and he didn’t look too bad. I said to Ray he’d had a result as two ambulance men lifted the guy onto a stretcher. Splashes from the impact of his brains spilling out of the back of his head and plopping onto the pavement danced on my blue mohair turn-ups, and Terry fainted. I’d never seen someone so dead. From that moment on, I knew it was unwise to argue with strange guys in sharp suits with lipstick on their collars, especially on a Saturday night. A few years later Diana Dors took over the club but I never went again.
Couldn’t get the splashes out.
Next: The Stranglers in Japan
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
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