Looking back, I would have to say that the whole thing began the night Moose, our guitarist, fell off the stage.
Moose, of course, was a nickname. His real name was Moses – Moses Van Niekirk. An appellation his parents had saddled him with in a moment of Christian upliftment sometime back in the late fifties. Now Moses seemed quite happy with his biblical name in his early years. But that all changed when his parents moved from a flat on Durban’s Berea to a three bedroom house with a spacious garden and pool in Durban North. Servants were now required and a maid was soon employed as well as a full-time gardener. And the gardener’s name was Moses.
‘Yeah, I ended up with the same name as the bloody munt gardener,’ Moose informed us during a drinking session one night. We’d been lucky enough to find an empty table at our favourite late-night haunt: The Crazy Horse.
‘So big deal,’ says Brian, our bass player and band leader.
‘It was a big deal,’ snaps Moose. ‘Look, as a pekkie, Moses was okay; if he hadn’t have been black, I would've quite liked him. The problem was with the okes at school. As soon as they found out they—’
‘—told you to come and do their gardens,’ slurred Harvey, our drummer.
‘Yeah exactly.’ Moose glared at Harvey and I wondered how long it would be before relations broke down again between these two. I didn't have to wait long:
‘So let me summarise.’ Harvey gave us the tight-lipped smile and the fish-like eyes which seemed to slide sideways towards his ears. ‘You led your people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, found a muntu with the same name and consequently got bullied at school!’
Moose’s face reddened:
‘Well they tried. And most of them got fucked up!’ His eyes locked on Harvey and I hoped, for our drummer’s sake, that he had enough brain cells still functioning to pick up on the implied threat.
Brian, as always, showed his leadership skills:
‘Look it’s no problem to us. We’ll call you Moose... end of story.’
‘Yeah, no problems. Moose it is,’ chipped in Dave, our singer, his eyes focusing on the table of girls sitting next to us.
I nodded my head in agreement and was pleased to see that Harvey’s attention seemed to have returned to his beer. It was hard to imagine that anyone might have tried bullying Moose – even as a boy. At the tender age of twenty one, he had already grown to become a giant of a man; well over six feet with a body as solid as a rock. His long and straight dark hair just about touched his trouser belt, his bushy moustache curled downwards to join onto his extensive beard which often had to be brushed to one side when he bent forward to launch into one of his wild and frenzied guitar solos. And when Moose came strutting towards you with his guitar case tucked under his arm it was easy to imagine a young Moses descending Mount Sinai carrying the famous tablets. This, of course, was a vision I never shared with him.
It was during one of these guitar solos that Moose lost his footing and crashed off the stage, falling straight into the ample bosoms of Nurse Lydia, one of our most fanatical groupies. We all fell about laughing; Harvey dropped his drum sticks and Brian had tears running down his cheeks. I laughed too, although must admit to a nagging feeling of guilt and partial responsibility. After all, I had been the one to knock on his door and invite him to join me for a few ‘quickies’ at the Lonsdale Hotel's Pool Bar earlier that afternoon. Moose, of course, hadn't taken much persuading. But I had been sensible enough to call time at around three in the afternoon and return to my Sealands flat for a quick siesta and a cold shower. Moose stayed under his red and blue umbrella and when I left him he was busy having a loud argument with an Indian waiter over the rules of cricket.
When he staggered into The Ship Inn for our cocktail hour which ran from 5:30 to 7:30, I was shocked and nervous. ‘The Moose’ was absolutely steaming! And when he lined up a few bottles on stage and proceeded to gulp them down at regular intervals, I was starting to get really worried. All of us in the band knew that Moose was a guy who could still play when he was drunk – Lord knows he got enough practice at it. But there’s a limit. And our guitarist had already stepped way over it.
I knew that the key to averting a disaster would lay in the break between our cocktail session and the evening session which began at 8:30. This was our meal hour and I figured that a large plate of grub, a few cups of coffee and a break from alcohol would be just what the doctor ordered for my inebriated friend. I decided to opt for Mother's Kitchen, the cabaret bar next door rather than the stylish and trendy restaurant up on the second floor of the Laguna. Personally I preferred their pub-style menu over the more traditional cooking of the main restaurant and had a particular fetish for their bangers, mash and beans with home-made gravy. But tonight I had another reason for choosing the ‘kitchen’. It would be a far easier place to keep Moose under some sort of control and it had a fairly easy-going attitude towards bad behaviour. I wasn’t at all convinced that the upstairs diners would tolerate another Moose food fight without complaint to the hotel management. No, the ‘kitchen’ was much noisier and would already have a few tipsy drinkers to help cover our tracks.
My plan, however, failed miserably. I had no problem leading him through the back bar and into Mother's Kitchen. But when we got there, who should be sitting there but Tony and Duncan from the resident comedy band: Ferdi and the Freeloaders. And in front of them were a couple of ‘gallon of ale’ jugs: very large glass containers frothing over with draft beer. Tony and Duncan were already on a roll and before I can stop him, Moose has staggered over and plonked himself at their table.
‘Yer fancy a wee tipple with us then, Moose... what about you Mikey?’ Duncan's originally from Scotland and the accent is still quite strong although you can tell that a few years in South Africa have flattened the vowels a bit.
‘Ere you are mate, you have this gallon and I’ll go and get me’sen’ another.’ Tony’s from Manchester and as anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with him will testify, he's a huge United fan. But that’s his problem.
‘I'll go and get us a couple of bangers and mash in the meantime,’ I offered, looking around for the nearest waiter. Moose just glared at me:
‘Nah... fuck that, I’m on a bender here, Mikey. Food would interfere with my digestion. We’ll nail a bunny after the gig. Or we’ll get a basket at the Horse.’
In English, this meant that we’d either have a ‘Bunny Chow’ – a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with meat curry – at a takeaway after work, or that we’d get a snack basket at The Crazy Horse. And straight away I was praying that option two wouldn’t happen. I couldn't even begin to imagine the state Moose would be in by one in the morning when the late-night cabaret at the ‘Horse’ kicked off. Especially now that food had been taken out of the equation and a gallon of ale had been added to it.
And so, at approximately 11 PM that evening, Moose fell off the stage, and consequently set off a chain of events that would also see him falling out of a job.
‘Well I thought it was funny at the time,’ he informed me later. I’d done my best to steer him towards a cafe for the Bunny Chow option, but Moose had simply placed an unsteady arm around my shoulder and dragged me to The Horse. We were sitting at the long bar, counting down the minutes before ‘The Great Maxwell: Hypnotist extraordinaire’ came on.
‘Jeez Moose,’ I said. ‘You’ve bloody-well gone and done it tonight. And you had to go and do it right in front of Dieter!’
Dieter Hueber was the manager of the Laguna. Strict but fair, we got on well with him, even winning a concession out of him to eat in the main dining room rather than the staff canteen.
‘Don't panic Mikey, you’re just a worrier. Dieter understands that it’s all rock ‘n roll. He’s up in his hotel room right now, pissing himself laughing and telling his wife all about it.’
I kind of doubted it. It was Brian, our singer, who had first spotted Dieter standing by the glass swing doors at the entrance to our club. Brian had turned quickly to the rest of us and run a finger under his throat, which was usually a sign that the current song would be the last before a break. In this case we knew that it meant: blue jacket in the house, stop what you’re doing immediately! Well it was easy enough for us to stop laughing. But Moose, of course, was blissfully unaware of the danger and remained face down on the dance floor, his nose perfectly dissecting the breasts of the giggling Nurse Lydia.
‘Moose, do yourself a favour,’ I now pleaded. ‘Get up tomorrow, drink loads of coffee and then go to Dieter's office and apologise. Tell him that you mixed cough mixture with booze by mistake or something. Make out it was some sort of accident. But just say sorry. He’s a good guy; he'll probably make a speech and let you off. But just show him the respect of apologising.’
Moose turned to face me, his eyes narrowing:
‘Who do you think I am, Mikey. I'm the best fuckin’ guitarist in Durban, that’s what I am. You know it and so does that bloody German. If he tries firing me I’ll slap him right across that larny desk of his.’
And for a horrible moment I pictured the scene: Dieter Hueber lying on his exquisite mahogany desk, his eyes dead to the fan above, a paper holder impaled through his abdomen.
‘I'm trying to be your friend, Moose. You could be in some serious stick here.’
Moose slammed his beer on the bar counter:
‘Oh, there’ll be some serious shit all right. And it won’t just be about tonight. I know that you guys have had meetings about me; I’m not stupid. I know what you were trying to tell me today. Brian wants me out and he’s already made phone calls.’
He was staring me straight in the face now and as drunk as he was, I knew that he could see the truth in my eyes. I realised that anything I said would probably just confirm his suspicions so I did the only thing I could. I kept quiet. He watched me for a while before reaching forward to rest a huge hand on my shoulder.
‘You know everything, Mikey... I know you do. Don’t even try to hide it. Brian’s gunning for a new guitarist and he’s got Dave in his pocket. Dave will do whatever he tells him to do, he doesn't give a stuff about music – he’s only interested in pulling punda. So that’s two of you that want rid of me. At least Harvey’s a straight-up guy: what you see is what you get. He’ll back a good musician rather than a well-behaved, suck-up to the boss type asshole. I know I’ve got his vote, and obviously I know I’ve got yours, Mikey.’
And now I looked away, fearing that Moose could really read my eyes. He’d got most of it right – but not all of it.
Yes there had been meetings; quite a few in fact, the last one only a day before. Brian had already phoned an agent in Cape Town to enquire about a guitarist who was looking for another band. Moose was also right about Dave always going along with Brian. They stuck together like the bosoms on Nurse Lydia. The only time I’d ever seen them fall out (I mean Brian and Dave falling out, of course – not Lydia’s lumps) was one night when Brian moved in on a girl that Dave already had his eye on. And yes, Harvey had backed Moose all the way. This had come as a bit of a bit of surprise to me, considering the bickering and almost violent relationship they usually enjoyed. Perhaps Harvey recognised a kindred spirit – even though that spirit was mostly of the alcoholic variety.
It was Harvey, if fact, who had brought the last meeting to a sudden and inconclusive end. At first he had, by his standards anyway, been quite sedate, pointing out that Moose was the best guitarist around, that many punters put their hard-earned cash into The Ship Inn just to watch his wild and unpredictable stage antics, and that as one of Durban’s most admired surfers he also drew in a lot of the beach crowd as well. But as Brian began dissecting Harvey’s arguments, pointing out that we didn’t necessarily need the world’s best guitarist to play pop cover songs; that this larger-than-life character was getting right up the Lugana management’s noses, and that the beach crowd counted for about twenty surfers who were making far too many inroads into the Ship Inn’s female clientele, then Harvey began losing his cool.
‘There’s no talking to you guys,’ he mumbled before raising his voice. ‘But let me tell you something and I mean this: if Moose goes, then I go with him!’
That left us all a bit stunned. I, for one, was genuinely starting to fear for the future of Warlock. And it was at this point that Brian had finally turned to me and asked my opinion.
‘So far you’ve said nothing, Mikey. What do you think we should do?’
And what did I do? I did what I always did. I turned and walked away. I threw my hands up and walked out of the room. This wasn't fair. Here I was, twenty years old, not long out of school being asked to make decisions that I didn’t want to make; take a responsibility I didn't want to take and deal with a situation I didn’t want to deal with.
‘I'll talk to him,’ I said over my shoulder as I reached the door. ‘I'll take him down to the Pool Bar tomorrow and try and talk some sense into him.’ Then I slammed the door behind them and walked away.
So here we were, leaning on the Crazy Horse bar with me chuckling gently to myself at the irony of it all. I should have known that talking sense to Moose while on a drinking session was an idea doomed to failure. Of course, I never realised quite how disastrous that failure would turn out to be. And I should also have realised at the time that things could still get worse.
‘Wake up Mikey, you’re laughing at an empty beer glass.’ I raised my eyes and shook my head a few times to try and clear the daydreams and the beer-induced haze. Moose had already slammed a few rand notes on the bar and was clicking his fingers impatiently at a barmaid.
‘Let’s order a snack basket,’ I suggested. ‘I need something to line my stomach.’
‘Get one for yourself, I’ll nick the odd thing,’ he mumbled. But I knew he wouldn’t; lager was all he would be guzzling tonight, unless I was extremely unlucky and he moved on to whisky. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Pierre, the maitre d' narrowing his eyes at Moose’s persistent finger-clicking. Although a late-night venue, The Crazy Horse prided itself on being quite an upmarket sort of a place. They certainly tried their best with the cabaret, getting some pretty good artists from the UK and having a resident 4-piece band with a nice-looking, sweet-sounding girl singer. The decor was nice too, with red lamps and table clothes on the tables, velvet-covered chairs, plush red carpets and colour co-ordinated coasters supplied with each tall glass of beer. You needed a tie to get in and, of course, jeans or trainers were out of the question. Moose had put up a bit of a fuss about the tie on our way in, but I had been prepared for that and had a spare safely tucked in my pocket. But getting it around his neck and trying to tie it proved to be nearly impossible as we negotiated the twenty or so stairs down to the venue. And things got very tricky when Moose plucked a pen from Pierre’s top pocket and starting to try and deface some of the framed pictures of previous cabaret artists that were dotted along the walls of the entrance hall. Only some smart talking and an assurance from me that Moose wasn’t as bad as he seemed (even though he was probably worse) had managed to get us past the reluctant maitre'd.
An unhappy-looking barmaid now responded to Moose’s clicking. She stood in front of him, arms folded, her face the epitome of disdain:
‘Right, gorgeous.’ Moose pointed at a bottle. ‘Time for whisky. Triples for both of us and bring the water and ice separately.’
‘I can’t sell you triples. House rules, you know that.’
‘Right, no problem then. Make it two doubles each.’
She paused and looked towards Pierre. He shook his head and came over.
‘Mikey, listen,’ he says to me, a touch of a French accent which I’m not sure is genuine. ‘Drink your doubles first and then order another round. And don’t just throw them back... okay?’
The danger signals were all there. He wasn’t even talking to Moose, but talking over him to me. That’s because he’d gone beyond trying to reason with him. All semblance of control now seemed to be slipping away. For a start, I didn’t even want to start on the heavy stuff; I just wanted a beer, a snack basket and a quiet life. And I didn’t want to get permanently banned from my favourite late-night drinking hole all because I was ‘nurse-maiding’ a guy who seemed hell-bent on getting himself fired.
Moose was now attempting to bend around on his bar stool to face Pierre and even though I couldn’t predict what was coming, I had a pretty good idea of where it would end up. This was it then, I thought to myself – goodbye Crazy Horse, no more late night cabaret and drinks for me. But then, lady luck intervened. The band struck up with a bouncy little jingle and a loud voice echoed across the room:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen... Let’s hear it, for the one and only... the longest-running act ever to appear here at Durban’s premier cabaret venue. He’s the magnificent... the hypnotist extraordinaire... he’s... The Great... Maxwell!’
A loud applause greeted the tall willowy figure in a dress suite that faded into view under a white spotlight. I turned to see Moose attempting to focus his eyes on the stage and Pierre walking back across the room. I sighed and took a long sip of the whisky as the house lights started to dim and the band broke into a fast version of the theme from Star Trek. Moose didn’t bother with the water or the ice and tipped the entire contents of the glass into his throat before turning to me and shouting:
‘Talentless bastard puts me to sleep!’ before proceeded to giggle insanely at his own joke. I ignored him and watched as Maxwell help up his hands. The music ended suddenly and the audience was expectant and hushed as he slowly approached the microphone. His voice was low and authoritative:
‘Tonight, my friends, we shall explore brave new worlds. I will take you to new and interesting lands; places that don’t exist in this world or in any other world. You see... we will visit places that only exist only in the mind.’ His raised both his hands and held his fingers to his temples, his eyes focusing on the front tables of the audience. ‘The mind is a powerful thing. Tonight you will be amazed by the power of suggestion; you will be dumfounded by the brain’s imagination and you’ll laugh like you’ve never laughed before at the actions of your friends.’
Of course, all the while that ‘The Great Maxwell’ is giving his opening speech (a speech I’d almost learnt by heart, by the way) I was keeping an eye on Moose. It seemed almost too good to be true that he’d remained silent while such provocatively poetic words were being dished out. But Moose’s eyes remained focused on his empty whisky glass and for a moment, I made the mistake of thinking that all’s well. It was only when Maxwell started to call for volunteers to occupy the twelve seats lined up on the dance floor that the proverbial shit hit the fan. Moose reached for my glass, tipped the remainder of my drink down his throat, banged the bar once and kicked back at his bar stool which I just managed to stop from falling to the ground.
‘Right let’s see if this silly bastard can put me to sleep,’ he announced and before I could stop him he launched himself onto the top of the bar, leaped the five foot gap to the lower counter that divided the main room from our raised area, and plummeted onto the dance floor, much to the surprise of the other volunteers and, of course, the Great Maxwell himself.
Maxwell’s a professional, however, and although his eyes initially showed the slightest touch of panic, he soon regained his composure and found a good line:
‘It seems we have a very enthusiastic crowd tonight. Take a seat young man and let’s see if we can calm your spirit.’
He gets a bit of a chuckle for this but to my surprise there’s no reaction from Moose who merely does what he’s told and finds an empty seat. And once again I’m seeing danger signals everywhere – good behaviour from this guy is nearly always the calm before the storm.
But he shuts up and lets The Great Maxwell get on with his show. He allows the hypnotist to do the whole ‘look into my eyes’ thing and closes his eyes and leans his head forward when instructed to do so. When Maxwell tells them all to bind their fingers together and then suggests that pulling them apart will be difficult, Moose plays ball. His fingers, like all the other volunteers, seem locked together.
I’d seen Maxwell’s show umpteen times and I knew how he worked. He took a few minutes to get going, but he soon relaxed when his ‘volunteers’ were safely under his control. Once that’s achieved he gives the audience what they've really come to see: people doing funny and dodgy things they wouldn’t normally do. This is where the act takes off. Maxwell simply comes up with silly ideas and daft predicaments and we all fall about laughing as his robotic flunkies deliver the goods.
Well he had certainly done the business in Durban. Originally brought out on the usual two week contract, he was already into his second month with the crowds still growing. I’d caught him on the opening night and was hooked right from the start, hardly missing a show since. I still remember Pierre poking me in the ribs one night when Maxwell was struggling for volunteers. But I waved him smartly away: I definitely wasn’t the type to get involved!
Tonight he’s got his subjects flapping their arms like chickens, dancing like John Travolta and believing that their backsides are stuck to the chairs with glue. After about twenty minutes he moves on to one of his funniest tricks, telling the volunteers that when they open their eyes everyone in the room will be naked. As always, their reactions are great with Moose’s being one of the funniest as he flutters his eyelids and blows kisses to one of the prettiest girls in the crowd. Then Maxwell singles out Moose and tells him that when he clicks his fingers, Moose will open his eyes to find that he is the only one in the room that is naked.
‘Naked?’ asks Moose, and immediately the red flags go up as I see his mouth crease into a wicked smile. A smile I know so well. And I know something else: Moose isn’t hypnotised at all – he’s stringing ‘The Great Maxwell’ along.
‘Yes,’ replies Maxwell. ‘When I click my fingers you will suddenly be naked.’
And click his fingers he does. The tie, shirt, trousers, socks and shoes came off at lightning speed. As Moose went for the underpants ‘The Great Maxwell’ was busy circling him yelling:
‘No, no... pretend, pretend... go to sleep... go to sleep!’
But off came the underpants and off went Moose. He proceeded to run the entire length of the club before vaulting onto a table and doing a handstand with his feet balancing against the side wall; the women sat at the table screaming half in amusement and half in fear. Then he sprinted around to the raised bar area and launched himself headfirst onto the long counter, drinks flying everywhere as he slid along the polished surface laughing hysterically and polishing off a full glass of brandy which appears next to his nose.
Meanwhile, Pierre and a bouncer from the outside door were giving chase, ‘The Great Maxwell’ following closely behind with Moose’s clothes bunched up in his arms. They finally cornered him on the dance floor and managed to drag him towards the exit.
At this stage Moose was still laughing and not putting up much resistance. But then the bouncer did a stupid thing; I can only think that he didn’t know Moose too well. He grabbed the back of Moose’s head as though he was simply guiding him through the door. It looked a little like those American cops who duck the suspects head into the back of the patrol car. At the last second, however, he changed the angles and violently slammed Moose’s head into the door frame. Moose shook his head once, muttered something, and in the flash of an eye, spun around and planted an uppercut on the bouncers jaw. The bouncer staggered back waggling his mouth and checking for broken teeth while Pierre beat a retreat for the reception phone. Meanwhile Moose had moved in for the kill and was pounding the bouncers face to oblivion while ‘The Great Maxwell’ stood behind his bare backside shouting, ‘go to sleep, go to sleep!’
Two black guys now appeared. One seemed to be a security guard from the hotel reception and the other wore a red jacket with a badge that said ‘porter’. They were both wise enough not to provoke Moose but rather, they held him off the bouncer and tried to talk to him. Maxwell also started to have some joy with Moose’s clothes, eventually managing to slip his underpants back into place although I suspect they’re on backwards. I moved to the reception area and did my best to calm things down. Meanwhile, the bouncer has staggered off to a corner of the bar where a barmaid holds his head back and a serviette to his nose.
I’m just wondering how to get Moose through the front door without too much fuss when in walks the cops. And here comes another unwelcome surprise: they’ve got a dog with them. A big, hairy, nasty-looking Alsatian! Why the hell do two cops, both armed with handguns, truncheons, pepper spray and handcuffs need a dog, I wonder? I suppose that the nearest available patrol car just happened to be one of those dog carriers. Mind you, if there was one thing I had learnt about the South African Police, it was that they loved their dogs. I had recently seen them used to devastatingly good effect at a cricket match at Kingsmead when a few streakers decided to bare all during a Barry Richards hundred.
So now the cops get hold of Moose, each grabbing him by an arm and attempting to slap the cuffs on him. And then, just when I think we’ve reached rock bottom and things can’t possibly get any worse, Moose surprises even me by doing the stupidest thing I think he’s ever done. He goes for one of the cop’s guns. He breaks the other cop’s grip and launches himself at the sidearm. That cop reacts in a flash, quickly stepping out of the way while relinquishing his grip on the dog lead.
Now Moose is in big trouble. Outnumbered by the cops, the security guard, the porter and the bouncer, who knows a good opportunity for revenge when he sees one, he takes a horrible beating and a few nasty bites. There's blood everywhere even on some of the pictures gracing this posh reception area. Perhaps my shouts help, or perhaps they simply know when to stop, but either way, the last I see of Moose that night is his apparently unconscious body being dragged up the red-carpeted staircase and being kicked unceremoniously out the front door.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next day, I wasn't surprised when Moose failed to show up for our morning rehearsal. I put my ear to the door of 1203 on my way out of Sealands, but heard nothing – I figured he would either be sleeping it off, still at the station, or most likely, down the road at Addington Hospital. Then I walked the few blocks to the Laguna arriving just after ten. The rest of the guys were there already. The looks on their faces said it all.
‘We’re wanted in Dieter’s office, immediately,’ Brian informed me.
‘What about Moose, shouldn’t we try to wake him.’ I was still hoping against hope that the news hadn’t leaked yet and that everyone thought that he’d overslept once again.
‘No, he wants to meet with just the four of us.’
That told me everything. I knew what was coming.
* * * * * * * * * *
[A more recent picture of The Beach Hotel where The Crazy Horse once was. Also known for it's veranda restaurant and bar and the notorious 'Cockney Pride' bar. An institution in Durban!]
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