The Cup Bearer
Monday 3rd June 1995
Jose didn't go straight home from school. Making a suitable excuse to Maria, he waited till the Visick Street bus had left the school then caught another going in the opposite direction. Five minutes later he alighted outside a cafe busy with workmen off a nearby building site. Following the instructions he had received in a note a stranger passed to him on the bus home last Friday, he entered the café and looked for a familiar face. The waft of burgers and chips increased his hunger and he knew the man he had come to meet would pay for a good plateful. He pushed his way to the rear of the café and sat down opposite a large man with a bald head and wearing a black leather biker jacket. The man glanced up from eating a plate of sandwiches. "You're late."
"Sorry, Terry, I had to get rid of my sister first. You did say I wasn't to be followed." Jose watched the man eat, and licked his lips. "I haven't seen you for a long time. How are you?"
"Not too bad." The man signalled to a waitress and let Jose order whatever he wanted. "Did you get the key cut?"
Jose produced a copy of his own door key and pushed it across the table. Terry shook his head and pushed it back.
Puzzled, Jose put it back in his pocket. "What d'you want it for?"
The man glared at him. "Never you mind. It's your dad who wants it and that's all you need to know."
Jose felt his heart pound. "He's okay? Where is he?"
"Can't say; eat your food and maybe, just maybe, I'll take you to him but remember, tell anyone about this and you're history. That's Guido's words, not mine. If this goes wrong I could be in a load of trouble. Let's just say your dad is making it worth my while to put my head in a noose."
Jose wasn't unduly frightened. His dad had told him little bits about his dealings around the area and knew Guido wouldn't allow anything to happen to him. This guy was just acting tough in front of what he thought of as a snotty nosed kid. All he had to do was behave himself and do everything Terry told him, and soon he would see his dad. Then he would tell his dad how Terry treated him and it would be Terry who was history. His meal arrived and he poured a liberal amount of barbeque sauce over the burger and chips. Now this is real food, not the rubbish Perquita and that stupid half-brother of mine dish out. He smiled at the thought of being involved in turning things around and giving that Spanish bastard what he deserved. "When can I see my dad?"
"Tomorrow, after school; meet me here."
"Why not today?"
"Because you were late."
"Okay, okay; don't get your pants in a twist. It wasn't my fault. I had Maria hanging onto me, okay? I'll come tomorrow but what do I tell Perquita? I can't say I need new trainers two days on the trot. She chewed my ear off as it is for losing the first ones."
The man smiled as he lifted his coffee mug. "Where did you put them?"
"In a bin near the park."
"Some tramp's going to be pleased."
"So, what do I say?"
"That's not my problem, sonny. You want to see your dad bad enough, you'll think up an excuse."
Sandy lay on his stomach on a lounger in the back garden of Eight Visick Street, enjoying the unusually warm evening while roughing out some music arrangements. Gypsy sat on the next lounger in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt, with his heavily strapped ankle raised on a cushion. He was showing Gaskin a more comfortable way to finger a chord, which included the slight altering of the angle of the guitar neck and his left wrist, thus making it easier to extend the little finger across all six strings. Ball and Vetch were chatting to two new members of the band, John Savers and Dave Walley. John was taking his GCSEs next year and played rhythm guitar and banjo, and Dave his classmate played a mean harmonica and the piano accordion. Gaskin hadn't been too keen to learn rhythm guitar but one of Gypsy's rules was that all band members be proficient with at least one other instrument, using himself as an example by already playing flute and guitar, and taking drum lessons from Ball. Vetch had chosen the trumpet as his second instrument and was doing very well on it, having spent two years as a junior cornet player with the local brass band before turning to the clarinet. The rule made sense, Sandy supposed; one never knew when accidents or illness might occur. Gypsy was looking for a second piano player and Sandy would be expected to mould him or her into a semblance of himself. Sandy was glad the rule wasn't to apply to him as, being strictly a keyboard man; all he needed was a decent synthesiser and he could mimic the sound of any instrument Gypsy wanted. Also he was needed to arrange the music. Gypsy glanced up as a shadow fell over him and Sandy found Brian standing behind his lounger.
Sandy exchanged knowing glances with Gaskin. It was a lovely May evening and they were enjoying their first rehearsal as the nucleus of their new band, the only non-member allowed to listen being Don who had become Gypsy's virtual shadow these days. From the way Gypsy's expression turned frosty as he looked up at Brian, the band knew he wasn't welcome.
Gypsy's greeting was chilly. "I don't take kindly to people walking into my garden uninvited." Don, who had been lying face down on a blanket on the grass, came alive and rose slowly and menacingly to his full height. The sight of him, in just a pair of shorts made Brian swallow hard, and from the way Don glared at Brian it was obvious he knew what Brian had done to Gypsy, and was ready to dish out a suitable punishment.
"I came to apologise; I want you to come back to the band." By his sickly expression Brian hated having to say those words.
Gypsy shook his head. "No thanks, Brian. I accept your apology but returning to the band is out."
Brian shifted uncomfortably. "You need the work and I need a singer. You might as well know; Shana's left me; she's left the band as well. I can't guarantee keeping the band together without a front man. I've given them new contracts and there's one for you if it'll make any difference."
Gypsy shook his head again. "I prefer to buy my toilet paper from the supermarket, thanks."
Sandy saw Brian's eyes flash with anger. "So, you won't sing with us?"
"I didn't say that."
"That's what you meant isn't it?"
"No. I'll sing with 'High Street', but as a separate act. You want me? You book me as a separate act. I'll sing when I choose and what I choose; if you don't like it, tough!"
"You're so dammed conceited."
Don shifted his weight and flexed his shoulder muscles. Brian went pale and took a step back.
"No. Brian, I'm not conceited at all. I just know what I want, where I'm going and how to get there. You've just admitted you can't survive without me, but I can survive without you. And remember, Brian, people are like sheep, they like to follow a good shepherd, and even at my tender age I happen to be a good one. Where I go, the fans will go."
Brian seethed and looked ready to attack but Don just being there stopped him. Delving into a jacket pocket he popped something into his mouth and swallowed hard. "All right, have it your own way. I've too many bookings at risk to argue. You certainly know how to tie a man down while you kick him, but just you remember something too. You won't always have your entourage or your pet dog standing guard." Everyone sat up and took notice as Brian started to back away. "One day you're going to learn what happens to underage kids who mess around with someone else's woman. You're going to pay, Diaz, I'd watch your back if I were you."
Don bared his teeth like a wolf and growled. Brian fled and the boys laughed. Sandy chuckled. "When are you goin' to tell 'im you've already formed your own band, then?"
"I don't need to." Gypsy strummed his guitar. "He'll find out soon enough. Right now I'm more interested in working out what he means by that threat." He picked up a note pad he'd been jotting notes in. "But first, we've got some points to hammer out about this band of ours, and I stress the word 'ours'. You guys are my backing band but you're just as important as me. I played in junior bands the last two and a half years I lived in the States so, I've elected myself as temporary leader, with Sandy as musical director because he's good at arranging music. Once you've had some experience you can take turns at leading the band, agreed?"
All six hands went up. "Now, to save any arguments, the choosing of songs we perform has to be democratic. We all got different tastes. I like singing Blues and Soul, Ballads, Latin American, and Country and Western."
"What about this new sound, Jazz Funk?" Vetch cut in.
"That too; I've always liked jazz to listen to. Sandy, what do you like best?"
"Christian music, of course, but I also like Easy listenin' and Boogie."
"Blues and Soul."
"Reggae, what else?"
"Would it bother any of you, knocking up other rhythms?
"I guess not."
Vetch frowned. "Good ballads, I think, and the better known jazz numbers, whatever suits the clarinet. I'm getting good on the trumpet too, as long as the tempo's not too fast."
"Disco and Country."
"The same as Dave. We often play as a duo at parties and fetes, but we don't mind adapting."
"So, we all wear different hats, right?" Gypsy nodded. "And there's our name."
The boys grinned and Sandy said with a laugh, "Different Hats! Great!"
"Right." Gypsy looked down his list of notes. "Now we've got a name we've got to have a stage presence unique to us. One thing we need to deal with is the use of our surnames all the time. That's school stuff, so let's leave it at school. From now on, Gaskin's name is Pete, Ball is Gary, Vetch, is it Simon or Sy?"
"Sy, please!" Vetch grinned. "I hate being pegged as De Montfort."
"Right, and from now on I'm Gypsy. Emilio Gomez is in the past, gone forever. Another thing I don't like is these bands whose mobile members prance around the stage like demented chickens and forget about the other people on stage who can't move. The drummer, for example, loses out on the attention. A lot of people like to watch the drummer, so we'll have the drum kit more to the side on a raised dais, at an angle so he can be seen. Tough if you're shy, Gary, you'll have to get used to being a front man sometime.
"Now, we need to look sexy and appealing to the females but they aren't the only ones we want to impress. When we move, let's move together. Not quite a dance routine that smacks of the sixties soul groups, but if I bop to the right, we all bop to the right. Even Sandy can bounce his bum to the right on his stool. Anyone seen the Blues Brothers? They use the whole of the stage but co-ordinate their moves. That's why they look so good." This brought a chuckle from everyone. "You've watched me when I sang with 'High Street'. My body talks sex and rhythm as well as my guitar and my voice. I want you to do the same and be noticed, whether you're behind a guitar or a drum kit. You've all watched big bands where the trumpet section all stand up and move as one. We can lump the brass and wind guys together and do the same.
"I know you get hot hitting those drums, Gary, and like to wear sleeveless T-shirts, but from now on don't make it any old thing with frayed edges; we'll get you something that looks good and makes a statement about you. That goes for all of us. Let's not go on stage looking like we're straight off a building site. That's why I wear what I do. My stage clothes tell people what and who I am. I want people to look at me and have an image of me in their minds they can take home. But I want them to remember that the guy's behind me looked good too. So let's cultivate a slick stage image that we can all enjoy and benefit from. If you want to wear jeans, okay, but make sure they're clean and pressed. And one more thing; I'm up front because I have to be as lead vocals and guitar but it doesn't mean I can't be replaced by any of you at any time. Whoever is out front has to remember he's nothing without the guys behind him; anyone object to that?" Sandy and the others shook their heads and Gypsy smiled. "Okay, if someone will hand me my crutches, we've got some serious practice to get through. My second front lounge is now our official rehearsal room where I've got a few surprises for you. Come and have a look."
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