Following Ian Ayris's lead and putting up the first few pages of a work in progress. You never know - it might just give me the kick up the wotsit I need to get this one rewritten and out there! (Incidentally, I wholeheartedly recommend that you nip on over to Ian's place and have a read - his stuff is pure gold!)
Alex was awake but had her eyes tightly closed. A bright light was searing her eyelids, showing her amoeba that swam through the red sea of her vision. She felt shaky, dry-mouthed and disorientated, and an evil incarnation of Keith Moon was rampaging around in her skull with a bass drum and a mallet.
She cracked one eye open just a fraction to identify the source of the light torture: curtains, that was all. Curtains that hadn’t been fully closed. Curtains, in fact, that had been carelessly yanked together in the early hours by someone not fully in control of her movements. Someone very drunk. Someone who by now would be feeling pretty damn miserable.
The effort that would be required to stand up, walk to the window and fully close the curtains was currently beyond her. Instead, she grabbed a spare pillow and hugged it to her face.
Next time she woke up, things weren’t quite so bad. She discovered that she was capable of sitting up and, having done so, reached out towards the large glass of what appeared to be water that sat on the bedside table. Her hand stopped short as she remembered and she slumped back against the headboard with a groan.
It had been one hell of an interview, the first and undoubtedly only time when her ability to play pool, skin up and hold her drink might prove useful in winning her a job. If she hadn’t dumped so much vodka into the fake foliage, God knows what state she’d be in. When she’d been presented with a pint of vodka, light on the tonic, she’d just had enough wit left to announce she was taking it to bed.
Getting up, she tipped the drink down the bathroom sink, rinsed the glass, then filled it up with water from the tap. She was about to drink it when she spotted the mini bar. Remembering that the room was all expenses paid, she ambled over to it and broke the seal.
Ten minutes later she had downed the two bottles of mineral water and the Toblerone she had found in there, and was feeling much better. She rang room service after she’d showered and felt better still after two cups of coffee and a bacon sandwich.
On her way out of the hotel she bumped into Mark Wilson, a fellow ghost, one of that band of writers who see other people’s names on the front of the books that they write.
‘Hey, Mark, how’s things?’
‘Alex! You in for this one as well?’
She nodded. ‘Interview yesterday. Just heading home.’
‘Took the chance for a lie-in, eh?’ It was past noon.
Alex grinned. ‘Found I needed one. Brace yourself, Mark, you’re in for a hell of a ride.’
A couple of weeks later, Alex took a much-loved and often watched DVD out of its case. She slipped the disc into the machine and settled back in her chair with a beer. She pressed ‘play’ on the remote; the image on the screen showed a field full of people in the evening, mostly long-haired, some in jeans, others in long, printed skirts, some in t-shirts, others in cheesecloth or cotton tops. Many were barefoot; grubby toes sinking into soft earth as they waited expectantly, chants and shouts rippling through the crowd. At the fringes, fires burned and small groups gathered around the flames in an attempt to stave off the darkness, the threat of cold playing around bare flesh, for just a while longer. The camera framed what was little more than a raised platform, the focus of attention. As dusk settled, the road crew set up gear quickly and efficiently, the practised choreography of the men in black conjuring a wall of sound out of the gloomy depths.
With the lighting rig yet to be turned on, the activity on stage was shadowplay. Alex made out the band moving quietly and without fuss to their spots. The crowd saw them too and thundered encouragement, eager for the show to start. Paul Scott got behind his drum kit and bashed around a bit, getting settled. Colin Carson plugged in his guitar and took up his position near the drum riser. Three tall figures, two wearing guitars that they plugged in when they were in position, strode out further towards the front of the stage. Tom Watson, the bass player, was stage left; Andy Airey, the singer, in the middle; and Johnny Burns, lead guitarist, on the right.
They looked at each other and despite the poor light Alex could have sworn she saw them grin. Then Paul Scott rapped his sticks together as he counted them in: ‘One, two, three, four!’ The lights flashed on and the crowd roared as the band crashed in, bass, rhythm guitar and drums pounding out a hermetic pile-driving riff. Johnny Burns’ guitar screamed into life, notes of angelic, crystalline purity soaring effortlessly into the night sky, spurring bodies into motion as the crowd began to dance. Right on cue, one of the best blues wailers in the business opened his throat and let out a primeval scream that pierced the heavens as Andy Airey, spurred on by the ecstatic greeting they’d received, launched heart and soul into the first number.
Alex put her beer down; she had chills, the hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end. This was the earliest available footage of Heartbreaker, showing the band just as they were breaking big. There were live albums available and they were powerful, raw, but seeing them play, even on screen, was something else. It took little effort for her to imagine herself there, dancing in the moonlight, head filled with rhythm and riff, the heady scent of a summer’s night in her nostrils: patchouli oil, woodsmoke and the sweet smell of grass. No wonder they’d grown to be so successful. It was getting on for thirty years since this gig had been filmed, despite which she reckoned they could give a number of today’s so-called supergroups a run for their money. It was hard to believe so much noise and excitement could be generated by just five men.
They ran through their set, throwing in blues and rock ‘n’ roll standards alongside their own material, then played a series of encores. They seemed reluctant to leave the stage; the crowd was certainly reluctant to let them go. As the final number came to an end, credits rolled over images of a band that had played its heart out, musicians slick with sweat and wreathed in smiles. It ended with a shot of Johnny Burns, one hand on the neck of his guitar, the other punching the air in a salute to the crowd, eyes shining, a big smile on his face.
Alex punched the button on the remote, then sat back in her chair and stared at the blank screen. She had been a fan of this band for as long as she could remember, but felt like she was discovering them all over again every time she watched the footage of the Robson’s Farm gig. She felt a familiar pang of regret that she never had seen them play live. And with only three of the band members left alive, there would be no reunion.
Heartbreaker was a phenomenon, a rollercoaster, the ultimate trip. Enough of the story had emerged to establish it as one of the most intriguing in rock. Alex was sure that there was treasure still waiting to be unearthed: with the search in the right hands, who knew what might come to light.
She stood and stretched then headed for bed. Her misspent youth had paid off; she had landed the job she’d been interviewed for and in the morning she would load her bags into her car and head south to start a new job, working with Johnny Burns on a book about his life, his music and Heartbreaker.