How Not to be in a Band - Mr Bickle’s Wall

From the moment we shuffled onto the stage, like a coach-load of tourists emerging blinking into the harsh Mediterranean sun, until we fled in ignominy our act was shambolic.

(illustration - the author)

Certain performances capture the imagination: Pink Floyd at Pompeii; Ozzy decpitating a bat; Cope mutilating himself; Tight Fit’s erotic miming on TOTP, and a buck-naked Stewart salaciously crooning ‘Maggie May’ to his inspiration Mrs Thatcher. To have been there bestows kudos. That’s why people lie about being there. Well apart from the first example as an audience was considered ancillary to their affected endeavours.

No one is innocent, and in this instance I am more guilty than most. Attempting to impress a young lady, I claimed my parents conceived me at the Isle of White Festival while Hendrix, guitar consumed by flames, astonished the world with his remarkable rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. This ploy failed for many reasons. The discrepancy between actual and necessary age – attending the premiere of The Magic Flute in a past life was just as plausible. That Hendrix covered this tune at Woodstock and strummed his blazing instrument on tour with the god-like Scott, and ersatz brothers Dwayne and Nigel Walker, didn’t help. Success, however, probably proved elusive because she knew she could do better than Walter Mitty’s heir apparently-not.

I digress. The point I wished to make was that not a single person ever lied about seeing the Travis Bickle Combo.

The TBC, eschewing the classic line up, consisted of two acoustic guitarists and eight percussionists, although the set list was more traditional: Brown Sugar and LA Woman. Rob and Damien didn’t let lack of talent limit our repertoire. A prudent decision, if they’d stuck to songs they’d mastered, at that time Rock a Bye Baby and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, everyone would have fallen asleep.

From the moment we shuffled onto the stage, like a coach-load of tourists emerging blinking into the harsh Mediterranean sun, until we fled in ignominy our act was shambolic. Initially, the crowd’s reaction was disbelief. Stunned silence. But they tolerated us. It was a busking competition. They hadn’t paid to see the Berlin Philharmonic. What did it matter? We wouldn’t be on for long, which is why Rob’s attempted ten-minute guitar solo proved so divisive. Good-natured encouragement was replaced by heckling, booing, chanted obscenities, hurled beer bottles, flying furniture and attempted frontal assaults.

(A public enquiry later claimed that the insurrection was not fomented by militant Doors and Stones sympathisers enraged by our extraordinary renditions. In spite of this, many conspiracy theorists still have their doubts. For more information read Beyond the Grave: How Jim Morrison and Brian Jones Posthumously Instigated the Travis Bickle Riot. Although you will have to wait untill I find a publisher.)

Then, as a glass shattered overhead, showering me with razor sharp shards, I experienced a remarkable revelation. We were not a distraction. We were the world’s first musical human shield. I cannot be certain that a Mr S Hussein was there that night, but surely it is no coincidence that he adopted similar tactics in his upcoming bout with the US. If there are any military strategists reading this, abandoning the melodious accompaniment was a mistake, as not only does it bolster morale, but syncopated rhythms can interfere with missile guidance systems.

In retrospect, when we’d been told to form a tight line at the front, I should have realised something was wrong, especially as the uniforms they provided included helmets and shoulder pads. Rob and Damien had played us like fools. It was a pity they couldn’t play music with such finesse as then deception would’ve been unnecessary.

Whether because of an innate stoicism, paralysis or fear of losing this one shot at fame, we stood our ground, desperately ignoring the maelstrom before us. Ever professional, we didn’t miss a beat. Actually we did, but the fear-induced, uncontrollable shaking rectified the situation. Some say they noticed a distinct improvement. Irene Cara believed that fame would enable her to live forever. In our case it had the opposite effect: we’d be lucky to survive the next onslaught.

This was not Thermopylae, but our phalanx held out longer than expected. It only broke when Vic of Nazareth, enraged by a direct hit, abandoned his pacifist ideology and dived into the seething mass, brandishing his maracas like two very small clubs. How effective these weapons proved is a mystery, but the rattling must have alerted the victim to the imminent blow. On the other hand, concealed weapons are the most effective and these could be hidden by simply sticking them where the sun does not shine, and pretending to be a very large rattlesnake.

The specific details of what occurred next are hard to clarify, mainly because I had dropped my tambourine and was forced to crawl behind a speaker stack to find it. Coincidently this position proved a very effective shield. It certainly felt better to be behind one rather than to be one.

Sensing the room was in a less than receptive mood, I refrained from reciting my epic, non-linear, free verse poem ‘Wiped Out: Uncle Buck Stops Here’, which explores the exhaustion and mental anguish I suffered after spending a weekend trying to programme my VCR to record an upcoming John Hughes marathon. Instead, I discarded my costume, and joined the multitude as it abused the band. Andy can keep his 15 minutes; five was enough for me.

The surviving members of the wall realised a rout had begun and abandoned Rob and Damien, exposing them to the spectator’s wrath. Aware, for the first time, of their perilous position, they thanked their assailants profusely and retreated.

It was all over bar the shouting for service at the bar while we waited for the results.

Dedicated to all those who fell that night. You are gone, and sadly I never knew your names to forget. A charity single, ‘You Looking at Me?’, featuring the two numbers undertaken that fateful evening will be released soon.

Next month: Destiny calling, collect