Warlock didn't really need excuses to have band meetings. Brian, for one, loved them. I used to think that he fancied himself as a business executive – the kind of guy who gathers ‘partners’ and ‘colleagues’ around a table for ‘brainstorming’ sessions. You could see him in a suit, opening a briefcase and saying:
‘Today, gentlemen we need to discuss the use of bad language on stage.’
Of course, recently we’d had quite a bit to discuss. Moose’s antics had kept us busy around our boardroom table. But when Chester came on the scene, a lot of things changed. How well or otherwise someone played or how badly they behaved were no longer the only issues. Suddenly it seemed as though we were thrown into something a lot bigger – a different world altogether.
‘What if someone reports us to the cops?’ Dave sipped at his beer before placing it cautiously in front of him. It was the day after the auditions and we were gathered around a green plastic table on the Laguna veranda. ‘Non-whites aren’t even allowed into the hotel, never mind on the stage.’
‘But he doesn’t look that different from us,’ I said. ‘Okay he’s got curly hair but his skin is nearly white.’
Brian tapped a rhythm on the table:
‘Maybe we can get away with it. Do you think any of the punters will recognise him as one of the waiters from Mother’s?’
‘Nah... won’t happen,’ chipped in Harvey. ‘No one checks out the staff, do they? As long as they bring the beers and don’t try and rip them off. Besides, Chester works next door – most of our punters don’t often go in there. Here’s the plan: I’ve still got that Alice Cooper wig from when we used to do ‘I Love the Dead’. We could whip that on him.’
Dave nearly choked on his beer and I turned to stare long and hard at Harvey.
‘I don’t somehow think that’s going to work.’
‘Look, let’s reason it through,’ said Brian and immediately I knew we were going to get one of his ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ speeches. ‘On the negative side we’re taking a bit of a risk. Somebody might recognise him and we’re going to have to ask all the staff to shut their mouths about this. Also, if he fails to turn up as a waiter for too many nights he’s going to lose that job. But on the positive side, he’s already told us that he doesn’t give a toss about being a waiter. I mean the guy’s a muso – all he wants to do is play. I don’t think the other waiters will drop him in it – after all, seeing him up on the stage with us is going to be a big thrill for them. And as Mikey says, he could easily pass for a white oke; who’s going to know? We’ll just tell Dieter that he’s a local guy filling in. After all it’s only for a few nights – I found out that Craig’s setting off from Cape Town tomorrow and will be here in a couple of days.’
‘I'll believe that when I see it,’ chipped in Dave. ‘The guy doesn’t seem to be in any hurry getting here.’
And that was how Chester got to join the band. We quickly arranged an all-day rehearsal to try and teach him as much of our repertoire as possible. But Chester merely turned up, plugged the guitar in and played every song note-perfect as though he’d been with us for years. I realised then, that he’d been watching and learning all the time he’d stood at the back dangling the empty tray; he’d mastered everything in his head long before he actually got up on stage with us. It reminded me of a story my music teacher once told me about a young Mozart. Apparently as a fourteen year old, the maestro had visited the Sistine Chapel and heard a piece of music that he rather liked. When no-one would give him the music for this piece, he simply went back home and scored the whole thing from memory. Had we found our very own genius? Well it was tempting to think so. The one thing that I can say is that Chester was certainly the best musician I ever worked with.
* * * * * * * * * *
Although we did pretty well during the week, Fridays and Saturdays were the big nights at The Ship Inn. When Chester joined us, we were still out of season and most of the crowd were our Durban regulars. That, of course, would change a few weeks later when the school holidays began in early December and the upcountry tourists swarmed down to the coast. The Ship Inn would then be packed every night, its numbers swollen with people from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and other inland towns.
It was, of course, the beaches that brought people flocking to South Africa’s third largest city. The warm east coast Indian Ocean and the subtropical climate provided the perfect environment for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. The many hotels and apartments that lined the beach front’s ‘Golden Mile’ provided comfortable accommodation and great views of the deep blue sea, the glimmering sand and the beautiful bodies, while the funfairs, amusement arcades, paddling pools, shops, bars and restaurants all made sure that Durban retained the crown of South Africa’s favourite beach city.
And when the sun set over the city’s Golden Mile – which was in fact a six kilometre stretch of land following the sea from north to south – then many of the people would return to their hotels, apartments, flats and homes to pull on their glad rags for a night on the town. In 1978 there was a good choice of night-clubs, show-bars and cabaret venues to choose from – many of them within walking distance of the Laguna. Some of my favourites were ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ at the Claridges Hotel, the ‘El Castilian’ and ‘Pool Bar’ at the Londsdale and ‘Club Med’ at the Killarney. ‘The Crazy Horse’ – if I ever dared to go there again – was just a few blocks away and of course, our hotel – The Laguna – had three different live music venues: The Ship Inn, Mother’s Kitchen next door and The Circle Bar up on the fourth floor.
It was the first Friday night since Chester had joined the band. So far, things seemed to be working out well. No tricky or negative questions had been asked about our new guitarist; the non-white staff hadn’t given anything away and the occasional blue jackets that had wandered into the club seemed completely unaware of any changes. A bonus for us was that a few guys from the band at ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ had seemed totally mesmerised by our new acquisition when they had visited during Thursday’s cocktail session. Unwritten competition rules dictated that no band would ever rave about another band – at least, not to their faces – but when Neil, the band’s singer came up to me in the break to ask:
‘Mikey, where did you find this guy?’ well... that kind of said it all!
So I was in good spirits as I walked from the main restaurant in the Laguna towards our club. It wasn’t even eight o’ clock and already the queue for The Ship Inn snaked far down the veranda. I used to love ‘walking the line’ to the revolving doors because it gave me a chance to check out who was coming in for the evening. As usual, the naughty nurses – Lydia (she of the large breasts), Cindy and Katy were a few feet from the front. These three were aptly named and were all, in fact, trainee nurses and real nurses, working at Addington hospital, located just a few blocks south of the Laguna. We had soon realised that our club seemed to be the number one drinking hole for members of that establishment – not that we were complaining!
Cindy smiled and said hello and Lydia and Katy giggled in response. I was tempted to ask Cindy if she’d remembered to bring her uniform but decided not to prolong the giggling any more than necessary. After all, if things worked out like they often did on a Friday, I could ask her more intimately a little later on.
As I got to the front of the line, my spirits took a sudden nosedive. Leaning against the glass doors as if willing them to open was ‘Mad Maria’ accompanied by her underage chaperone.
The story behind Mad Maria and the chaperone is a strange and unsettling one. In fact, it’s that weird that it almost sounds like I dreamt it up. And to be honest, sometimes I wish I had!
It had started a few weeks earlier when I was switching off my keyboards after a midweek cocktail session. A girl walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see a likeable face, dark hair, brown eyes with perhaps a touch of Italian about her. Nice enough although I wouldn’t say she was anything special.
‘Excuse me,’ she says in quite a posh-sounding voice. ‘I would just like to tell you something.’
‘No problem, fire away,’ I answered, expecting some sort of song request or compliment.
‘Well,’ she continued, ‘I've been watching you for a few weeks now and I have to say this. You come across as the most self-centred, arrogant, miserable and conceited man I have ever laid my eyes on. You really are a horrible... horrible man. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that you are quite evil.’
Then she stood quietly waiting for a response while my face coloured with a combination of anger and embarrassment. I mean, what do you say to that? Well I know what Harvey or Moose would have told her and yes, I was tempted. But, eventually I decided to go for a more subtle approach:
‘Look, I don't know what you name is—’
‘Maria,’ she interrupted.
‘Okay then Maria. Well you’re entitled to your opinion and well... I’m sorry that you feel that way.’ Then I smiled and walked away.
‘Good evening to you,’ I added over my shoulder.
Something told me that she didn’t want this conversation to end; that she wanted an argument. But I made sure that I didn’t give her that satisfaction and disappeared out of the club.
So, a couple of nights went by and every night I noticed Maria turning up with this guy who looks as though he should still be at school. They sit next to each other but there’s never any contact between them – in fact there’s very little communication at all. He acts more like some sort of relation rather than a boyfriend and at the time I had him down as a younger brother. They always arrived early enough to get the same front table; they drank a fair bit but never danced. And all the time her eyes are focused in one direction: they’re staring at me. No smiling or anything – just a beady-eyed stare. By now, of course, the band have nicknamed her ‘Mad Maria’.
Then one night, the ‘young chaperone’ – my nickname for him – comes up to me during a break.
‘I need to talk to you,’ he says, his voice hushed and grave, as though he’s about to part with a great secret.
‘No problem,’ I say. ‘What is it?’
‘Well it’s about Maria. The thing is... she quite likes you.’
‘Oh right,’ and I'm standing there looking at this kid’s spots and wondering which funny comment to make. But before I can say anymore, he comes out with:
‘Look, I’m not sure if I should tell you this. But, Maria is actually in love with you.’
Now the insults were mildly alarming, but this news feels positively scary.
‘I preferred her hating me,’ I say before gently turning the kid around and pointing him towards his seat with some encouraging words:
‘Now why don’t you just piss off!’
You would think that that would be the end of it, wouldn't you? You would hope that Maria and the young chaperone would take the hint and move on to some other poor bastard. But no, the next night she was back in her chair and the gaze was more intense than ever. By now, I'm starting to watch my back on the way home at night and every time someone shouts my name I’m jumping a bit until I can identify the voice.
This goes on for a few more nights and then once again, as I’m about to leave the stage to get a beer I see the chaperone approaching. This time the expression on his face is thunderous, like someone’s just slapped him around the chops a bit. In fact, I wonder if he’s going to burst into tears when he tells me:
‘I have a message from Maria. She wants you to know that she’s sorry about what she said and believes now that she has misjudged you.’
While he’s speaking I’m looking at this spotty kid and wondering why he’s so unhappy telling me this. Then it hits me. This ain't no younger brother. This silly sod’s in love with her. I’m just starting to think that it might be time to put this kid out of his misery and tell him that I have absolutely no intentions of going anywhere near his beloved Maria, when he opens his mouth again and floors me with the rest of his speech:
‘If you look over at Maria,’ he says. 'You will notice that she has dressed especially for you tonight. She wants to go home with you later and is prepared to do anything to show you how sorry she really is.’ He leans in close to me. ‘And she means... anything.’
So I look towards Maria. She’s wearing a very short black leather dress, fishnets and five inch heels. And for the first time ever, she lifts her head, and smiles.
Well... I would be lying if I said I never thought about it. But an image soon entered my head; me lying on my Sealands bed, knife in my back and a pool of blood soaking the sheets. I turned and brought my face in line with the chaperone:
‘Have you seen The Exorcist,’ I asked him.
‘Course not,’ he scowls. ‘It’s banned over here.’
‘Well I saw it last year when I was in the U.K,’ I informed him. ‘There’s a girl in it who’s possessed by the devil, her head spins around on her shoulders and she vomits out really nasty green stuff.’
‘So... I’d rather sleep with her than with your Maria. Now take the hint china and don’t come near me again, ‘cause if you do I'll break your fuckin’ nose!’
And that's the story of Maria and her chaperone. After my dire warnings she still turned up every night, still kept giving me the beady-eyes and the chaperone still looked as though he was being forced to chew on a mouthful of wasps. But they’d kept their distance – and I was hoping that they would continue to do so.
Walking past the queue, I went through Mother’s Kitchen, exchanged a few words with the guys from Ferdi and the Freeloaders, and then wandered through to the staff bar for a beer. And waiting for me there was Brian, Dave and Harvey; faces as grim as Linda Blair’s priest:
‘Craig’s not coming,’ Brian informed me. ‘For the last few days he’s been in Port Elizabeth snuggling up with Fagin. Turns out that he’s joined them.'
Harvey was about to add something but Brian turned on him:
‘Don’t say it Harvey,’ he warned. ‘Just don't say it!’
And with that he stormed out of the bar and disappeared into our club.
* * * * * * * * * *
Durban's South Beach from from the ocean. Addington Hospital is the brown building on the left.
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