It was quite the covert operation. The bride’s father wanted us somewhere in the arsehole of the Wicklow mountains by 2pm to meet his man, who would then take us to The Lake House. When we finally found the place, the down to earth henchman told us we’d be playing for ‘celebs’ and ‘high society types’.
It was late May, ’96 and Ireland and Portugal were playing a friendly at Landsdowne road that day. Those in the band who cared about sport were vexed at the thoughts of missing the match.
As soon as we arrived the bride’s mother decided she didn’t like the look of us. The Henchman came over and asked apologetically, “They want t’ know d’ yis have black suits?”
“No. I was told it was casual,” says I. Some of the band were dressed more casual than others. He grimaced and said, “Okay, follow me. Let me get yis out of sight. Hopefully they’ll be pissed in a few hours and won’t give a fugh wot yis look like!”
He brought us to a ballroom where he said we’d be playing later that evening. It had a TV and bar. The lads’ eyes lit up. My head done a quick tally of the situation: free drink, football match, no suits, seven hours til showtime. Trouble.
When my head came back into the room I noticed everyone’s spirits had lifted. “Ah sure, dis is not too bad a day after all! Put dat TV on, Dazzie! And who’s for a pint?” said Philby, standing behind the bar looking like he belonged there.
I tried to join in on the craic but I could feel a knot starting to form inside. “Wot’s yer poison, Henchman?” says Dazzie. “Not while I’m working. Your food will be ready at 8 and yis are on stage for the first dance at 9 bells.” He said and was out the door.
Before long the lads were chasin’ down their pints with the fashionable bottles of Fat Frog alco pops – just for fun. A musician is always the last to get paid. He’s at the bottom of the food chain. So when he sees an opportunity of free gargle, he’s drinking more for his loss of earnings. It wasn’t long before the free drink started to turn sour in their stomachs. You could feel the mood shifting in the room.
Ireland played shite and lost the match 1-0. The henchman came in to check on us and flippantly mentioned, “The security guards ate your stake dinners ‘by accident’.” What I thought was our only saving grace had been scuppered. With a conciliatory tone he added, “We’ve sent down to Enniskerry for burger and chips for yis.” The band went on the defensive. When the grub arrived back it was luke-warmish. Just as we were ripping apart the vinegar soaked brown paper bags the best man walked in and stated affirmatively with his Blackrock brogue, “Its 9pm! You’re on right now. This minute! And if you take a bite out of that burger you will not be getting paid.”
Our singer Staggerlee had a better idea in his alco pop haze. He picked up all the food and threw it up towards the heavens. The stodgy Italian cuisine rained down on top of the best mans head: cold chips, tomatoed onions, mayonnaised buns and dry lettuce. There was a silence. Staggerlee and the best man looking at each other, facing it off. I knew his mind. Now that he had equalised both of their energies, he was happy to go on and play. He strode out past him knocking him to the side “Let’s go to work, lads.”
. . . and we hadn’t even started to play yet.
The Wedding Band From Hell (Part 2)
We made it on to the stage. The groom had asked us to learn ‘Guitar Man’, by Jerry Reed, for the first dance. We slacked on it. Staggerlee gave a mumbo-jumbo vocal performance and the spotlight guitar riff I was supposed to learn was turning heads for all the wrong reasons. Philby and Dazzie were holding down a groove as best they could, considering their condition. The groom had a surprise dance prepared. It was a combination of Elvis air guitar with some random Bruce Lee karate chops thrown in for good measure. It gave his new bride grounds for an early divorce.
After that fiasco ended, not wanting to be outdone, the bride’s father thought it would be a great idea if the band played in a completely different room. The best man from Blackrock approached and announced to us,
“Break down all your equipment and set it up in the room with the view of the Lake. Be ready to go in fifteen minutes!”
Staggerlee screamed at him “You fugher! Yer de worst type of a best man.”
After much in-band snarkyness we got the gear set up again. At this stage the band had been drinking for eight hours with no food. The wedding party would never catch up with us now. I couldn’t put my finger on it but they seemed to be operating in an alternate universe of inebriation. They had the appearance of being sober. There was a wall building up between them and us; the more songs we played, the less responsive they became. I was looking for a way to turn the gig around when The Henchman approached the stage and whispered to me,
“A much loved and well known singer would like t’ get up and sing a song, dis is yer chance t’ get them on yer side.”
“Thanks, Henchman.” says I, launching straight into a monster riff.
I walked around each band member telling them to “Join in! We have a special guest.” Staggerlee introduced him with his typical cynical tone. ‘Much Loved Singer’ strode up towards the stage like a peacock high fivin’ the guests on the way. The almighty roar from the crowd for him only seemed to emphasise the lack of interest they had in us. Nevertheless, this was our shot at redemption. As soon as he arrived on stage he turned away from the crowds applause and towards us. Unsmilingly, he said,
“Don’t play, you wouldn’t understand the vibe!”
My heart sank. Staggerlee said, “Try me!”
“No! It’s not your vibe, Man!” he said, again.
“Wot’s de name of de fughin song?” Staggerlee snapped.
MLS was miffed and reluctantly said, “Life’s a Cabaret,” while jostling the microphone and lead from the mic-stand.
“It certainly is!” said Staggerlee, taking the piss. “And wot’s de name of the song?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand the sentiment.”
“Deep and meaningless?” said Staggerlee.
MLS moved out on to the dance floor and got as far away from the band as he could. If his performance was going to be a success, he didn’t want us to be any part of it. He got down on one knee, opened his mouth, and confidently began singing his song accapella. A mostly female audience surrounded him.
Staggerlee turned up all of his guitar effects and launched into one of his experimental soundscapes. MLS started contorting his hand behind his back towards the stage. Staggerlee had him by the balls. The song had started and the pro that MLS was, he would never stop. He would see it through. It was interesting to watch him agonise; his expression was caught between a smile for his faithful minions and a fugh you for Staggerlee.
While this was going on, Dazzie was laying on his back with his bass across his body. Philby jumped up off his drum stool and said, “I’m goin’ t’ de bar to get a whiskey for me pot herbs.”
I went over to ask Dazzie what he was doing. He said, “I’m protesting on account of yer man being a wanker.”
“Get the fugh up!” I yelled. “We want to at least get paid for showing up, if not for entertaining the crowd.”
The sound of MLS crooning away to the backdrop of Staggerlee’s guitar cacophony of metallic and spectral noise was taking the night into a new kind of surreal. In another setting some art or music boffin might hail their collaboration as a genre all of its own and ahead of its time.
When whatever “it was” finished, the crowd was at a loss as to how to respond. By unspoken consensus, they decided that whatever “it was” couldn’t be topped, so they left the room in a large drove.
MLS reluctantly walked over to us. He dropped the mic on the hollow ply board stage, creating a sonic boom.
“What were you doing?” he asked Staggerlee.
“I told ye I’d know de song. Nice jammin’ with ya, man.”
I announced a fifteen-minute break to the audience to try and help avert the tension. Somewhere a DJ put on some background music. ‘Strangers in the Night’ by Sinatra.
Staggerlee shouted after MLS as he walked away, “Do you fancy getting up again during the second set?”
The wedding band from hell (Part 3)
We all left the stage and headed off in different directions; we needed some distance. Staggerlee went over to a table of famous looking guests to ask for a drag off what looked liked spliff. Philby went to the bar for another whiskey. Dazzie ambled on to the dance floor looking like a drunken guest at the party. I went to use the deluxe porta-loos out in the garden. Only to be left waiting outside for what seemed like an age. I was about to give up and ask the occupiers to hand out the toilet roll so I could go and take a shit behind a well manicured bush, when MLS came out arm-in-arm with a Much Loved DJ. They were all smiles and full of apologies, until they recognized that it was just me.
When Staggerlee came back from the table he said he had asked for a drag off the spliff and told them a story in kind. Initially he thought they were interested in the story only to realise they where anxious faces were waiting for him to pass the spliff on. He said it didn't smell like a joint and that it tasted sweet and that he found it very hard to let it go or pass it on.
It was time to go back on and a small number of the wedding party made it back into the tent for the second half. They seemed to be pissed, which was a relief.
Staggerlee became erratic even by his standards. He was instigating conversation with the small audience and stopping and starting songs. He had succumbed to his train of thought. The command over his inner and outer voice was gone. They had become one. So this meant that in the middle of a chorus of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ he wanted to stop the band to extrapolate on a point that he was making about ‘real music’ “take the words in this song for example it’s about people that love a place, a place where they come from, they are connected to and proud of dat place?” It was painful to hear it.
By the end of the night even the drunken guests had left the room. There was no official ending to the performance. Philby went out to the other bar to get himself another double whiskey. Tension had been building up between him and Staggerlee all day. Philby usually didn't drink while playing drums because he needed his coordination. He mentioned to me that he never usually drank on the day of a performance but that Staggerlee's drunkenness and unpredictability was putting him on edge. While he was out at the bar, Staggerlee and dazzie climbed on to the drum kit. Dazzie called to me "Play 'I Can't Explain' by The Who" I acquiesced.
Having not even reached the first chorus of the song they both launched into a double Keith Moon. The kit was being kicked and flung in all directions. I looked to the entrance to see Philby witness the whole thing with his mouth gaping. I started to scream at them "you fughin bastards! Call yourselves musicians? Call yourselves friends?"
With that the brides mother just happened to walk in. She was looking at a drum kit strewn across the stage and dance floor. She looked on and heard a back and forward of vexatious language that would shock a fruit seller on Moore Street. Little did they know that accusations they were throwing across the room at each were being carefully noted. As they were presented to us on Monday morning along with a solicitors letter by Polly the booking agent.
Our driver Costi said "put yer belt on"
I said "piss off!"
He said "put that belt or your walking home from Wicklow"
I said "stop the van"
"Because I'm going to punch yer fughin’ head in!"
He pulled the van over. We both jumped out the doors of the van and met at front grill with both arms swinging and landing punches on each other's face. There was no pain just a wonderful sense of release. Each connection driving out the pent up anxiety of the past 12 hours.
When we were finished and satisfied we went and sat back in the van. I cried. Costi said "its been a long day, don't worry about it." It had been a long time since we'd sparred like that. That's what a real friend can do for you. He dropped me home.