The Cup Bearer
Thursday 30th May 1995
Gypsy picked up his guitar case and bag off the pavement as Brian's van rolled to a halt outside his house, and he limped to the back as someone pushed the doors open. Helpful hands took his gear off him and hauled him into the van then pulled the doors closed. The drop down-bench seats down each side of the van were already occupied, and most of the band's gear took up the central floor space. As usual, being always the last to be picked up, Gypsy had to sit with his back to the doors and find whatever leg space there was while hoping the doors were securely locked. Archie, the wild haired drummer they fondly called Animal, was sitting nearest Gypsy on his left and as Gypsy moved his left foot, so did Archie. His foot connected with Gypsy's ankle. Gypsy yelled as pain ripped through it and he felt he was going to pass out. Archie apologised and asked what was wrong.
"I twisted it." Gypsy gritted his teeth and there was a groan from near the front of the van.
"That's all we need!" Glen complained. "I said I had a feeling about this tour!"
Gypsy didn't like this blonde haired, overweight, jumped up bugle blower and they glared at each other. "It will take more than a twisted ankle to stop me performing."
"Oh yeah; how yer gonna dance then?"
"That's my business. I won't ask you how you're going to play your bugle with a split lip."
The youth sitting opposite Glen grinned. "In other words, Glen, back off." He turned to Gypsy. "Well, are you going to tell us how you did it or what?"
A deep Scottish brogue answered for him. "Chasing' the birds, so I hear!"
"Wrong, Les," a lighter voice piped up. "My information is it was quite the reverse!"
"Go on!" the youth who had silenced Glen exclaimed. "What's the story then, Gomez?"
Apart from Archie, this brilliant keyboard player was the only one not bitten with the teasing bug, and Gypsy liked Joe for that. "Nothing much; I was on the Llandudno beach yesterday with some friends and I tripped over."
"Modest little tyke, ain't he?" a new voice broke in. "Dammed near the whole town was with him." Dark eyes twinkled out of a round ruddy face as Dave combed his unruly waves with his fingers. "I heard the females of the pack took exception to him chatting up two French birds and he ended up playing fox to a pack of very hungry she-hounds. And they weren't just after his blood either. Ain't that right, kiddo?"
The van swerved suddenly and everyone grabbed for something to hold on to. Gypsy had nothing to grip and rolled to the right. A strong hand gripped his right shoulder and Les grinned down at him. "Some guys have all the luck. How did ye save y' skin?"
Glen said loudly. "He pretended he was out for the count, would you believe."
"I tripped." Gypsy snapped back.
"And Diddums pretended to faint." Glen cut in with a sneer. He looked round at his audience. "He had everyone thinking he was really hurt and his Welsh slave was carrying him back to the blankets when Gomez gave the game away and he got dumped in the sea instead, clothes and all."
Howls of laughter rang out and Gypsy could only sit and fume till the laughter died down. "I don't see the joke; my new pants were ruined."
"Now he tells us he has no sense of humour," Glen scoffed. "Big deal!"
Gypsy glanced round at the other guys. Archie, Joe and Les looked as if they wanted him to shoot Glen down in flames, and they looked embarrassed for him too.
Let them think what they like. Gypsy closed his eyes and let the argument go on without him.
"What the hell! He's just a little faggot anyhow."
A fist struck home, followed by a grunt of pain. Gypsy opened his eyes and saw Les and Archie holding Joe back from hitting Glen again. The trumpet player rubbed blood off his lower lip and glared at Joe before turning his hate filled eyes towards Gypsy. "I said I had a feeling about this tour and I'm bloody right."
"And you got your split lip after all," Archie replied happily. "And the kid didn't even have to touch you!"
Gypsy had a feeling about the tour as well, only what he felt was a mixture of satisfaction and sadness. Somehow he knew he would prove Glen wrong, and he knew that someone would cry because of it. He closed his eyes once more, to shut out the bad vibes buzzing round the van; and tried to fill his mind with calming thoughts. He cast his mind back to the night before. On arriving back in Trentham they had gone straight round to the garage and packed most of Don's immediate needs. After promoting his part time garage hand to full time to help Gary run the garage when Don wasn't there, the guy had moved into Guido's old room. After supper they had started exploring the bible together, and found it wasn't as easy as it looked. Both admitted they needed outside help and Gypsy decided he had to pray about that. But what if the bible was right, how would that affect his feelings for Don? This was the start of a new life which could turn out to be yet another challenge for him as Gypsy Diaz. He had even confessed to Don about his feelings for Sandy, and how difficult he found it to not just blurt things out to his mate. Don didn't know what to advise; one thing was certain, he'd rather be with Don than going on tour with these jerks. He jerked back to the present as the van lurched to a halt, and he allowed himself an inner smile at the thought.
"By the way fellas, I don't answer to Gomez any more. As of yesterday the name's Gypsy Diaz and that's official. Gomez is dead and buried."
"Oh goodness! Brian, what kind of rubbish dump have you brought us to now?" Shana peered round the edge of the door leading from the tiny room the band had been given as a dressing room complete with cobwebs and an assortment of discarded furniture. The noise coming from the main clubroom beyond was enough to put anyone off working the club circuits for life. The club was large and rough, and it seethed with a slowly undulating mass of humanity that preferred to get drunk and argue rather than be entertained. Even as Gypsy peered over her shoulder, a man poured the contents of his glass over his neighbour, thus provoking the inevitable brawl. Only the swift action of a bouncer removing the aggressor from the room at top speed quietened things down. The mood was mean and Gypsy knew it was making Shana nervous.
The twelve by ten feet of low staging was hardly big enough for their equipment, let alone themselves. Shana was wearing a new pink top with tight satin trousers, and she was obviously worried about having them ripped to bits before she got halfway down the room. A bingo session had just ended, and someone was playing the organ very badly, to which half of the gathering were singing with enthusiasm if not in tune. Punters, three deep at the long bar, yelled that it was their turn to be served. Shana sighed and turned away from the door; she wasn't the only one disappointed with the place. Only Brian, Glen and Dave showed no qualms at all. "We have no choice if we want to work," Brian said. "Some clubs are okay, some are not."
Gypsy closed the door and made his way to a dust-covered dresser in the corner of the room. Everyone but him was ready, lounging in whatever decent chairs there were till it was time to go on stage. Gypsy never liked getting changed till the last minute, preferring his stage clothes to be fresh and un-creased when he stepped into view. He had already completed his warm up routine as best he could in the confined space, now he looked at his watch, stripped to his briefs and reached for his pants, aware of Shana eyeing him with guarded interest; he sensed she liked him a lot. She was sweet natured and treated him as an adult; an equal. Pity she was Brian's bird. He tolerated Brian because the band was a useful stepping stone to better things; a fact Brian would never notice, being so full of his own importance with no time for anyone's ideas but his own. Gypsy had come up with some good suggestions but Brian had turned them down without considering them, and Gypsy had retaliated by refusing to sing certain types of material such as Heavy Metal and Punk.
"I don't like punk; it's ugly," he had told Brian when they played at one venue where anything else was classed as nursery rhymes. "I said so when you auditioned me. If you want to include them in your programs, go sing them yourself."
As he dressed, Gypsy was aware of several pairs of eyes studying him, but he mentally shut them out and tuned his mind to the approaching performance. He eyed himself in the mirror as he tucked his black shirt into his pants and hitched the zip closed. He wouldn't turn away from the dresser till he was satisfied with his appearance and he had never made the band late for their entrance yet. He adjusted his shirt cuffs, tidied his hair, slipped on his bolero, set his hat on his head at a slight tilt over the right eye and turned from the mirror just as Brian checked his watch. "All right, time to go." It happened every time and it gave Gypsy a buzz of satisfaction to see the relief flood through the members of the band. Each one wondered if he would be ready on time and he always proved their worries to be groundless. It had all been part of his training over in the states; to have everything timed down to the smallest detail and to be calm and in control as you stepped out on stage. Except for Shana, who was a trained dancer, the others were amateurs including Brian.
Brian led the way on stage with Gypsy bringing up the rear and watching Shana's back, but they might as well have been invisible for all the attention they received. They began with a medley of Top Ten Hits; Shana and Gypsy belting out the words and the band keeping things lively until Gypsy was sure the stage was going to collapse. A few people stopped talking for a while to watch them but soon lost interest and talked louder than ever; Gypsy did not like it. This was the fourth gig with the band since he had joined it, but the first time in front of a bad audience; the kind Shana had warned he would come up against eventually; band versus mob. He was glad when the opening medley ended. Glancing behind and to the left of him, he saw the plastic smile on Brian's face at the pathetic ripple of applause, and knew they were losing the battle before it had hardly begun. They were singing the wrong songs for a start. This crowd weren't interested in the hits of the day; these people still had memories of traditional ballads and wartime songs. He knew he was right when a few choice remarks were flung their way as they began playing the next item.
"Shut that row!"
"Play something we can sing to!"
"'G'arn y' noisy Arabs!"
"Who booked this rubbish?"
Down the room a fight broke out and a table almost went over. Women screamed then joined in as well. The music faltered and died, and Gypsy rounded on Brian. "You've got to change the program before we get thrown out. These people aren't interested in this new stuff."
Brian glared at him and at the audience who were beginning to boo and jeer. All he said to the band was, "Just keep on playing."
Gypsy felt like hitting him. "Count me out." Picking his way through the equipment to the control box at the back of the stage, he ripped out the lead of his own mike and plugged in another with a long extension. Ignoring Brian he stepped off the stage and walked towards the front tables, which were occupied by some women deep in conversation over glasses of dark ale and shorts. They didn't notice Gypsy as they laughed loudly at a joke one of them had related and then Gypsy raised the mike, prayed hard and began to sing.
"Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling……..."
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