Just before we went on stage that night, we called Chester into the change room and gave him the news.
‘Chester, you’re now an official member of Warlock,’ said Brian reaching out for a handshake.
For a while, the little guy was so bewildered that he couldn’t speak.
‘Well... I mean... are you sure?’ he said eventually. ‘I know you guys were waiting for your guitarist from Cape Town.’
‘We changed our minds,’ said Brian. ‘He’s not as good as you my friend, and that’s a fact.’
‘Yep, that’s a fact,’ agreed Harvey. ‘Even Moose would agree.’
And now Chester really was speechless. He ran his hands through his tight curly hair and stared down at the floor.
‘Right that takes care of that,’ announced Dave. ‘Shortest band meeting in history. They should all be like that. Come on, let’s get out of here, the girls are waiting.’
Brian, Dave and Harvey crouched through the narrow change room door but I paused for a second. It seemed to me that the right thing might be to invite our new member to join me for a drink. But as I turned to ask him what he wanted, I saw something that made me change my mind. Although he attempted to look the other way, I had already spotted that his eyes were wet with tears. So I left him to it, spinning around and heading for the bar.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Ship Inn had been built to look like the interior of a boat divided into two decks. The top deck was in an ‘n’ shape and was furnished with small round wooden tables and little blue buffets. It surrounded the lower deck which only had enough space for six sets of tables and buffets, a small dance floor and an even smaller stage. In fact, the stage was so tiny that we couldn’t fit on it and a rostrum had been added to the one side to accommodate my keyboards. Lining the walls of the club were a few fake porthole-style windows with photographs of the sea showing through them and in keeping with the marine theme, the ceiling was designed with overhanging metal beams held together by large rivets.
The number of people allowed into the club was two hundred and twenty two. This number had been set by the local fire service and Dieter had instructed the bouncers and the cashier that it couldn’t be exceeded under any circumstances. Consequently, on a busy night, if you weren’t one of the first 222 people to be in then you had to wait outside until someone left.
The Ship Inn was therefore a really small club, especially compared to some of our neighbours along and near the Golden Mile. But that was exactly what made it my favourite club. It was intimate, you got to know people, you got physically close to the crowd, and when that dance floor filled up, it was as if the punters were dancing on-stage with you. The only time that that was a bad thing was when the occasional joker decided to reach up and help me out on the keyboards. Now that really did drive me wild and I must confess to smacking one silly bastard who tried it one time too many.
Playing at The Ship Inn, however, was a really big thing for me; in a sense it was a dream come true. I’d been a regular at the club since my school days, getting in by wearing smart clothes to make myself look older and greeting the bouncers by name as though I’d known them for years. I used to sit at the same table that ‘Mad Maria’ would later occupy; beers lined up in front of me – my eyes centred on the stage. During the band’s breaks, I’d watch the girls and try to think up clever things to say to them. Sometimes I’d come up with a few lines but then I’d usually be too terrified to actually approach them. (Later in the evening, I’d be too drunk.) The band, I noticed, didn’t have that problem. If anything, the girls approached them, or gave off signals that a blind man couldn’t miss. But the one thing I already knew then was: I wanted up on that stage.
It took a few years to finally do it. My first band gigged around Durban for a while mainly doing functions and a few nights at a hotel on the outskirts of town. Then we got a contract in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) followed by Port Elizabeth and then back to Durban where we broke up before we could make any impact on the city. After a month’s holiday in the UK, I joined Warlock and once again went off to Rhodesia – Bulawayo first, followed by the same club I’d previously played in Salisbury. It was only then that we finally managed to convince Dieter to fly up from Durban and a three month contract was successfully negotiated. After only six weeks we managed to break a few weekly records (in spite of the limits set on us by the Fire Department) and the contract was extended for a further three months. And that, for me, was the icing on the cake. It meant that we’d be playing my favourite club through the long December/January holidays and consequently would be jam packed every single night.
That Friday night when Chester was told that he could stay on as a permanent band member was one of the best nights that we ever had at The Ship Inn. The band absolutely rocked. Chester’s playing and feel was spot-on and it was his talent that was pushing the rest of us to new heights. You could see it in the guys’ eyes – we were loving it.
And the punters could sense it too. The dance floor was jammed all night. Once someone found a place to dance they stayed there, unwilling to move and lose their spot. I had about ten girls dancing so close to my section of the stage that it was only a question of time before one of them stumbled onto it. Nurse Cindy was peering between my Hammond Organ and ARP Odyssey synthesiser and the look in her eyes pretty much said it all. It didn’t look as though I’d be lonely later on. Mad Maria, of course, was throwing her murderous looks from her blue buffet while the chaperone looked mournfully on.
My five keyboards were laid out in two separate rows with a gap in-between. This was something I’d seen both Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman do, and it looked particularly great when you leapt from one row to the other or straddled yourself between the two rows, hands flying up and down the opposing keyboards. I’d always thought that guitarists and drummers had the edge when it came to bodily contortions and intense-looking poses, so I was determined to even up the odds.
It was just after performing one such flying leap, that I spotted her. I think it was the white mini dress that first reined me in. Most of the girls that year seemed to be going for tight-fitting satin trousers or darker coloured skirts or dresses. The one thing they were all wearing were those wedge style glass-slipper mules. But other than the mules, the girl in the white dress looked very different from the others. She was tall – probably not far off my six foot, one – her skin was tanned a beautiful golden colour, her figure belonged to a model and her legs really did seem to go on forever. But it was her face that really made her stand out. She was quite simply: stunningly beautiful. Dark hair, long and straight, rested on her shoulders, her oval-shaped face needed very little makeup and her blue eyes sparkled under the dance floor lights while still managing to convey an intense feeling of mystery and melancholy.
I watched her dancing for most of the set, mesmerised by her natural, graceful and at times sensual movements. Now and again she would close her eyes and simply sway with the music and during those moments she seemed to be somewhere else – in another time and another place. Then her eyes would open and she would focus in on the girl dancing with her, on the band or at her feet.
We reached the last song of the set which was Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’. The lights dimmed to a soft blue for the introduction, with a spotlight falling on me for the famous saxophone solo which I emulated on the synthesiser. And it was then that I first felt her eyes on me. For a while, my childhood shyness resurfaced and I was almost too scared to look up, thinking up all sorts of reasons to concentrate on the keys in front of me. It suddenly seemed almost too good to be true that this beautiful woman was showing any sort of interest in me. But eventually, curiosity and the sense of occasion got the better of me and I raised my head. I stared into her eyes for what was just a moment. But that was enough.
Our set ended and we quickly launched into our play-off jingle:
‘Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, and buy the band a drink
A round is cheap, much cheaper than you think
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself and buy the band a drink.’
The dance floor gradually cleared as people went searching for the nearest waiter. The girl in the white dress was one of the last to leave and seemed to be engrossed in a conversation with her friend – a blonde-haired girl in a black skirt and red top who could also be described as very attractive. Then, to my surprise, the girl in the white dress walked over to my keyboards. She held out her hand and before I knew it, very formally shook my hand. It seemed such a strange gesture from her; a little old-fashioned and incongruous, and yet it felt kind of right.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘I’m Emily. I just wanted to tell you that I love your playing.’ ‘Thanks,’ I said, struggling to think of what to say next. But before I could, she smiled and gently touched my hand again. She moved a little closer to me so that her mouth was just a few inches away from my ear.
‘I feel the same way,’ she said. Then she squeezed my hand and slowly turned and walked back to her seat.
* * * * * * * * * *
Part of the Golden Mile in the 70s.
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