Chapter 9 – If I Cant Change Your Mind
It’s been a week since the news broke that The Head Must Die. The reaction among the folk on the music scene has been amazing. There are posters for all our upcoming shows on every flat surface in town. Barbershop windows, the college refectory, The Record And Tape Exchange counter, The Bagel Bakery, The Townhall, The Skate Shop. Amazing as it sounds they’re even advertising our stuff in Fat Joe’s.
Outside the pub the altered signage has been pushed that bit further. Long ago it had once read The Queens Head. That was before the rebranding meeting. The rebranding meeting was a legendary night where Me, Dan The Man and Trace climbed up there after a lock in on a borrowed scaffolding tower. We’d unscrewed all of the bolts on the word Queen. So for almost six full years it’s been just The Head with the remaining letters pushed closer together to cover the space of the missing Monarch. The Q.U.E.E.N letters reside in Sarah’s flat on the wall with a mirror mounted in the center of the Q. There are trinkets stood in the curve of the U and on the flats of the E’s. Just a couple of days ago Dan The Van and a local artist hung the Must Die part on heavy iron chains from the H and the D. The Head Must Die. It looked really metal. The painted swinging sign which was once of Victoria had been altered to include an Aladdin Sane Ziggy Zag across her face not long after the rebranding meeting. Now it had evolved further to include Mexican style sugar skull face paint. Inside the Hendrix stained glass now featured a skeletal rictus grin.
Last night while selling shots of pina colada on the bar for a pound a shot with every round, I’d taken a call from a journalist who worked for the local paper. She was interested in the story behind the pub closing down. She’d heard about the huge bill of events filling the next three weeks before we’re gone for good. Today she’d arranged to come and talk to Sarah and I about it. It’s relatively early though. Two in the afternoon. Double Steve and Daisy are now an item. They’re all puppy love eyes and soppy smiles as they work their shift. Sarah is cooking in the kitchen and I’m running the bar. We’ve done more lunch covers in the last week than we normally do in a month. Double Steve and Daisy hooked up on the day I arrived at work after the bad news all beaten up and bleeding. They’d got good and drunk the night before. Somehow they’d totally missed the fact they’d been flirting with one another for weeks. Not long after Dan The Van had dropped me off and I’d found them playing house (or playing Landlord and Landlady) they fell into each others arms in the cellar. And so it goes. Best of luck to the pair of them. They make a handsome couple. Love in the time of lock ins.
I’m filling the shelves of a fridge when a familiar deep baritone voice addresses me from the bar. “Young Man. There’s no need to feel down.” I turn around to see Mr Knickerbocker sat at one of the stalls in the center of the room. He’s smiling like a Cheshire Cat. If a Cheshire Cat ever smiles like it just fitted a mortal enemy with concrete shoes and took them for a long walk off a short pier. I try my best customer service face to look pleased to see him. “Hello, there. Long time no see. How are you?” Mr Knickerbocker looks up and down the bar before he answers and he rubs the short beard on his chin while he drinks the details of the day in. “I’m very well. How are you?” I consider my answer and stand to face the biggest gangster I ever met in my life. “Well, you know. I’m sad about this place. Sad for Sarah. But overall, I’m doing OK. Everyone has been really good about what’s going down.” Mr Knickerbocker listens intently to what I’m saying and leans in. “You ever need to get back in. You give me a call. I know you’re a good boy. I know you know how to stay off the radar. That’s not nothing.” He made air quotes when he said ‘good boy’ “You ever find yourself in a tight spot again like before, I can work with a good boy who keeps his mouth shut. Rare talent that.” The whole time he’s talking to me he doesn’t blink, he doesn’t break eye contact and he is smiling. He knows he scares the shit out of me. He scares the shit out of everybody. I decide to ride it out like a pro “Can I get you a drink?” He stands and walks past me like I just insulted him. “No. I’m going up to see Sarah.” I’m momentarily relieved that he’s not in my face. I learned very early on not to get in his way. Traditionally I step aside and Mr Knickerbocker and Sarah close the door behind them. They talk about whatever the hell it is they talk about. The only one who still gets roped into any of it is Dan The Van. He seems to blithely drive himself into tight spots, war zones, stand offs and dodgy deals. He just bimbles in. Loads up or unloads and then bimbles off again without so much as a speeding ticket. Or so it seems. Never a bullet hole, never a black eye, never a collar felt. All under Mr Knickerbocker’s watchful eye.
I see his huge frame pass through The Head by the way he blocks out light wherever he goes. In his smart suit and posh shoes he’s a very unlikely candidate for The Head and yet he seems drawn to it. Drawn by Sarah, by the low profile it offers him, by virtue of the fact the underworld outside would never suspect to find a 6 feet 6 inch tall Caribbean born gangster hanging out with emo kids. He moves through the bar in seconds and is gone up to see the boss. One rule we all observe is we never disturb Sarah and Mr Knickerbocker if they’re both upstairs. Double and Daisy are mooning at each other when the first of our punters arrive. It’s Solveigh and a couple of the girls in her little clique. They’re not dressed in their usual indie night finery. Solveigh looks like she has just come from work as a legal secretary while her two friends look like they’re fresh from the gym or tennis or some shit. Never the less she slinks up to the bar with her usual graceful sophistication. “Hello Steve. Can I ask? Do you ever leave this building?” she says it all in a singsong voice as she glares into my eyes. I’m so pleased to see her I don’t even give her grief for it. “Good Lady Sol. Nice to see you. I don’t leave The Head anymore on point of principle. This place is my spiritual home. In 22 days it will be gone. I need to soak up as much of this all round Headness as possible. It has to last me until at least my midlife crisis.” She laughed and nodded like she understood. “That’s exactly why we’re here for lunch. We couldn’t bear the idea of not coming enough before it’s gone. You know, for The Headness.” She didn’t explicitly emphasise the innuendo in her sentence but it was there. I’m not one to to Carry On Camping a conversation if it can be left unexploited. Solveigh is a classy lady, she knows the unwritten rules. She changes tack and gets to ordering lunch and drinks for her crew. Within half an hour the place is buzzing. Many old faces have come out for lunch and some great music.
That’s only half the story though. There are many new customers in attendance eating and drinking on a Thursday afternoon. What used to be a quiet before the storm of a gig is now an event in it’s own right. Sugar’s If I Can’t Change Your Mind finishes blaring on the jukebox and I catch eyes with Daisy during the gap before the next track. John Densmore’s drum break for Hello, I Love You tumbles out of the speakers, we nod to one another and smile. The Box prevails again. I start snake walking to the till to change a note. Daisy is walking like Egyptian to every fuzzy keyboard chord with hands full of empty glasses. Several tables join in with the opening ‘Hello I love you, wont you tell me your name?’ The whole place is buzzing to a pop hit older than half the clientele when the Journalist enters the bar.
She’s a sharply dressed lady in her late 40’s. She looks around the bar as if it’s the first time she’s been inside. Her eyes drink in the details. I see her eyeing the Hendrix window, the Cherub over the till, The gold disc of Sham 69’s Hurry Up Harry framed on the wall, Chalk boards full of elaborately rendered band logo’s for upcoming shows. A giant coin and an inflatable T-Rex in one corner, a rubber bat on a toy motorcycle in another. On the tables the cutlery is kept in jam jars. The mock Pollock painting has left flecks in high places, the black out paint around the stage features the odd bit of graffiti or screen printed poster. She watches the room as she makes her way to the bar. Jim Morrison leading a chorus of boys, girls, men, women and everything in between in a jolly little ditty. She reaches me just as Jim’s Hellos are getting all rawk. I time my greeting with him. “Hello!” She smiles but I’m pretty sure she’s not charmed by it. “Are you Steve?” I nod. “I’m Pamela from the Journal.” I reach over to shake her hand. She has tiny thin little hands like cold china. “Pamela, that’s apt.” I say without realising I’m music nerding out loud. “Oh” she says instantly “Why is that apt?”. I double down “This song was written about a Pamela. Pam and Jim. The love story of The Doors”. Pamela smiles a feint half effort and takes out a pad and pen. “Pamela, can I get you a drink? On the house of course.” She looks up and down the bar before she draws a blank “What would you recommend?” Time to play the role. “If you’d have been here last night I’d have recommended the pina colada shots. This morning we got everything from hot fresh coffee to cheeky house red and some crisp cold cider.” I left that hanging in the air just a moment and she jumped on the groovy train. “How cheeky is the house red? I think I should try that.” I’d never met a journalist before but I figured they spent all day drinking and being skeptical about things. I spun round and unscrewed the cap on a fresh bottle of Merlot. I assumed she’d want a large glass and poured with not a little flair to my arm. “I’ll let Sarah know you’re here”. As I turned to head off she put her cold hand out to stop me. “Wait, Why don’t you and I have a little chat first? It was you who I spoke to last night wasn’t it?” I nodded. “OK, well Steve, how long have you worked here?” Here it comes. The PR Machine. “I’ve been here about six years. I fell in love with the place first time I came, well sort of the first time. The first time I came it was a dive. Then Sarah worked her magic on the place.” I gestured to the decor of the building. She took my meaning and decided to give me a history lesson. “That’s right. This pub used to have a very different reputation. It felt like a regular feature in The Echo for years with all the repeated terrible things that happened here. Crime, disturbances, a stabbing once. What do you think Sarah did differently to the previous Licencees?” I knew I wouldn’t like being interviewed.
“Well. I didn’t really spend a lot of time here before it got… Cool. When I met the gang who were running it back in ’94 I was so charmed by it. They were all so friendly, so natural. You can be yourself at The Head. We’re not worried about what’s on trend, what’s fashionable or trying to pull a snog before the night is over. People can be whoever they really are when they come here. I know some people say they can only be who they really are here. At home they have to present a certain way. Here, it’s freak time! Everyone is a bit of a weirdo at heart. Sarah and the team encouraged that, as long as it’s not spoiling anyone else’s fun. The only thing that really matters is the music. Come for the music, enjoy the company, drink some nice drinks, have some fun conversations. What’s not to love?” Hello I Love You has ended and Four Big Speakers by Whale is blaring out of the speakers all fussy beats and rapid fire rapping. I can see Pamela is working hard to understand the environment she is in. I understand why there is a whole section of mainstream society that has no idea places and people like this even exist. If you didn’t ever look for us you wouldn’t know we were here. “So would you say it’s a loss to the area that The Head has to close down?”
“Kill The Head and the body will die. That’s where the slogan comes from hanging outside. Hunter Thompson knew some stuff. This place is a magnet for people who don’t want to choose from Sports Bars, Spit & Sawdust or a Carvery to drink in. It’s for people who don’t want nightclubs with names like Ritzy’s or Pizzaz to dance in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for our type of people. The Head is a place where the oddballs who stand out can get together as a majority rather than be the minority. You know I got turned away by the doorman at the Chicago Rock Cafe for being too rock? Here wearing a leather jacket or guy-liner doesn’t make you the odd one out. It means you’ve found your tribe. That’s what I’m sorry about. Losing that.” Pamela was frantically writing down my every word when she started her next question. “Do you think The Head should be saved?” This took me by surprise. We had all had the fate of the place presented to us as a done deal. “How can it be?” She wondered aloud while drinking in more details and a fair gulp of that wine. “Perhaps you could all find another place to commune. Take over another pub. Put on concerts in the other places in town with stages.” She seemed to think this place was the sum of it’s parts. I sort of bristled inside but I did my best to not let it show. “I’m sure the crowd will move on. We’ve proven this community is a good thing. We’ve all come to know each other really well. There are some excellent bands have come up through here. A real scene.” This was a light-bulb moment for her. I could see we were back on script. “That’s right. Sister Pain played their early shows here didn’t they?”
“Yes they did. Sister Pain, Cake Or Death, Seven Ounce Squat to name just three all played shows here. Some of them even worked the bar here before they got record deals. We’ve had bands as diverse as Ice-T, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Menswear, Shed Seven.” Pamela’s expression changed. She thought I was taking the piss. “OK. I think maybe you’re making these band names up and taking the mickey out of me a little bit.” I was once again reminded that to the normal person, an alternative music nut sounds like they’re having some sort of episode when they speak. “I assure you I’m not. Carter USM headlined the Reading Festival, Shed Seven’s last album had four top 40 singles on it. Ice-T is famous in Hip Hop, Heavy Metal and as an actor. That’s sort of the point I’m making. This place has it’s own groove. It’s probably time I went and got the Boss Lady.” Pamela nodded “Sarah? OK. Tell me before you do, is she a good Boss?” The angle this question could go in suddenly felt ‘off’ to me. Why would someone want to know if the owner of a doomed business was a good boss or not? I paused for only a moment. “Yeah. She’s the best” With that I headed off to the kitchen to see if she was about. Sarah wasn’t in the kitchen and nor was Mr Knickerbocker. This presented me with an awkward decision. The unwritten rule was never disturb the two of them if they are upstairs together, but despite this I knew Sarah wanted to speak with this lady from the paper. It’d been her who was so keen to invite Pamela in when she called last night. There was one thing for it. I was going to have to go up the stairs.
When I got to the door of the living room I knocked loudly. Mr Knickerbocker cursed loudly from the other side. I didn’t wait to be asked ‘who’s there?’ or ‘What do you want?’ So I just yelled out. “Sarah. The journalist from The Echo is here. She’s in the bar with a glass of red.” There were a few audible movements inside and Sarah opened the door while still pulling her checked shirt back on over her shoulders. I could see Mr Knickerbocker adjusting his jacket in the room behind her. “Thanks Steve. How do I look?” She looked red in the cheeks and a little sweaty in all honesty. I wiped at my nose and winked and Sarah copied me hurriedly. There had been nothing there to see but I now knew she’d been on the special sauce before we headed down stairs. “You look great.” She followed me down the stairs doing up the buttons of her shirt as we went. “What’s she like?” Sarah asked as we got to the kitchen. “She seems alright. She did ask me if you were a good Boss. I thought that was weird” I said before straightening a stray twist of her hair back into a less ‘bed headed’ position. “And you told her I’m a monster of course?” I played along “I said you keep us locked in the basement in miserable servitude and spend all our tip jar money on pogs.” This made Sarah snort a huge laugh as we headed out into the bar. That’s how Pamela and Sarah met, with one finishing a huge glass of wine as if it were a glass of tap water and the other snorting like a pig at some unshared joke. “Hi I’m Sarah. Welcome to The Head. Now known as The Head Must Die.”
“I thought the quote was Hunter S. Thompson, ‘Kill the body and the head will die’.” She shot back. I thought that was a bit cheeky. Using a gobbet I’d just given her as if it were her own knowledge. At least she got it the right way round. Dofus! Sarah rolled into it her usual conversational self. “It sort of is. We just felt The Head ‘Must’ Die sounded better. Like a 50’s B-Movie title. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.” Pamela wrote that down and asked her next question as she scribbled. “Do you like 50’s B-Movies Sarah?” I could see she was cooling to Sarah with every passing moment. “Oh I do. Giant bugs, gals in cool outfits, groovy theme tunes, super duper posters.” She gestured to an Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman poster behind the bar, “Why wouldn’t I? B-Movies and B-Sides. That’s our wheel house. The A List is too brightly lit.” Sarah didn’t miss a beat as Pamela’s empty glass hit the bar she picked up the Merlot and refilled it maintaining eye contact the whole time. I think this might have been the turning point. Pamela seemed to decide to like Sarah right then and there. I went back to serving while the pair of them sat and chatted for the next three quarters of an hour. The piece appeared in the paper three days later. Front page and two more inside. The place was now rocking to Cameo’s Word Up! It was Heaven on Earth.
‘A REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD’
Doomed local rock venue plans on going down in a ‘Blaze Of Glory’.
Step inside the doors of the public house formally known as The Queens Head and you’re in for a rare treat. The place is an Aladdin’s cave of rock and roll past and present. From the gold discs on the walls to the stained glass hippie icons on the windows, the whole building is a temple to the electric guitar. Talking to the staff and customers it’s clear that the vibrancy and enthusiasm for all types of music is a winning formula. So why then is this popular, profitable business closing it’s doors at the end of this month for the final time?
Bartender Stephen Wise (27) feels the compulsory purchase order on the building is depriving our community of a unique cultural hot spot. During a busy Thursday lunch service he told me ‘This place is special. The music is the most important thing, not fashion or trend’. Publican and mastermind behind the transformation of The Head Sarah Bellum (44) has organised an incredible line up of shows every night until the venue shuts it’s doors for good.
Local legends, young up and coming talent, not to mention a fair few famous bands who have passed through on their way to the big time are all lined up to play. The rumor mill is already turning with the customers as to who will come back when. In the last ten days there have been tributes to The Clash, The Ramones, AC/DC and Blondie. There have also been ambition achieving shows for local high school bands Tortilla Killa and Inferno. Most sensationally so far a band of indie hit makers with several top 40 singles under their belts are confirmed to be playing this Saturday night.
Land-Lady Bellum told the paper “We’ve got a lot of contacts from years on the scene. We’re calling back some of our most successful friends to help make the last few weeks of The Head as memorable as possible. There’s a big surprise lined up this Saturday that music fans do not want to miss…”