Rock And Roll Valhalla – Chapter 12

Chapter 12 – Up The Junction

After the gig there was a truly riotous party. Penny and Trace encored at the end of Flying Toasters set with a duet. They did a ferocious take on Veruca Salt’s Seether. It was genuinely hairs on the back of the neck brilliant. The atmosphere turned more like an end of term party from then on out. Once attendance was whittled down to the bands, the entourages and the bar staff I experienced my first late night lock in at The Head. I felt like I was king of the world. I danced on a table with Penny and Trace to They Might Be Giants at one point. I told blue jokes with Uncle Vernon and at some other point I carried Dan The Man around on my shoulders while he made balloon animals. It all got blurry after that.

Miraculously I then woke up in Penny’s place with a huge mug of tea by the bed and sunlight streaming through her bedroom windows. Funny how it goes. One week you’re a happy go lucky Metal-head bartender giggin’ and liggin’. The next a battered GBH victim. Give it half a dozen weeks of physical pain and existential dread. You just might find yourself in a love affair with a rock chick so out of your league you feel like you won some sort of Satanist lottery. Was Arthur Loafer the Devil at the crossroads one midnight? Is Penny a karmic reward for a good beating. Did I die in that fight and ascend to Mosher heaven?

So here I am now wrapped in this ridiculously luxurious duvet on the top floor of a three story town house. I’m about to go down stairs and meet my girlfriends parents for breakfast. Judging by their abode they’ve got a good life. Judging by their daughter they’re very cool people indeed. Never the less. It’s 1994 and I’m not sure how cool it is or not to introduce yourself to your lovers parents fresh from her bed in their house. Let alone on a Sunday morning after you made her scream the house down the night before. Penny bounds into the room in something approaching goth casual. Her baggy Slayer t-shirt and long hair up in a messy bundle play down the monochrome glamour girl I’ve become so very accustomed to. The big brown eyes are not diminished in their devastating impact for her lack of eyeliner however. She’s fresh from the shower and in a playful mood. As I try to sip tea from the huge pint sized mug she’s throwing karate chops onto my legs and making Kung-Fu movie faces. “You’re in a good mood.” I observe aloud. “Of course I am. I get to see you do that awkward ‘meet the parents’ squirm this morning. There’s no getting around it. I’ve seen Mum and she’s looking forward to meeting you. I’ve been told Dad’s been sent out to get eggs. Because Mum has decided you have to have eggs. I don’t even know if you eat eggs. Tell me you’re allergic. That’d be brilliant.” I swill down a huge gulp of tea shaking my head “I’m not allergic to eggs. I’ll eat ’em”. Penny tuts then slow motion karate chops my neck. “I’ll squirm though if you like. Did we wake them up coming in last night?” This causes much hilarity in Penny. She falls back laughing. “I’m not letting you off that easy. You have to be unsure what they heard, what they think. You can’t fish that out of me. Did they hear you hollering ‘Cap! Tain! Caveman!’ as you came. I’m not gonna say either way.”

And that was how I met Mr David Black and his wonderful wife Mrs Lizzy Black. With a seed of doubt planted in my head. I had the suspicion their daughter got her wicked sense of humour from her Ma & Pa. They were both fantastic. I adored them. David beamed with pride when he spoke about his Penny and his Lizzy and how wonderful he found them both. Lizzy kept making me toast and poaching me eggs while asking me about my life. The warmth and happiness in their home radiated out into their food, their coffee and their daughter. Penny’s family home would become a happy place for me too over our relationship. A safe port in any storm.

By the time we got to the pub for opening Sarah had the rest of the crew putting back the furniture that had been stowed away in The Pigeon Club for last nights gig. The kitchen was already full of last nights washing up. As she walked through the top door to the bar the Staff all stopped to give Penny a round of applause. It was a brief moment of recognition for last night before Uncle Vernon threw her a dish cloth and a pearl of wisdom “Last nights rock stars are this mornings bar staff.”

Penny caught the cloth midair and gave a two finger peace salute to his road dog ways. Uncle Vernon turned his attention to me immediately. “Young Blood. Grab the other end of this table and follow me to the stage.” I did as I was told. Penny grabbed a spray bottle to start cleaning down the rest of the bar. In no time at all the daytime layout of the pub was restored. The stage was becoming more elaborate once the table had been draped with a gold cloth. There were three gold and red seats set up behind it facing out to the room like mismatched thrones. A Lava Lamp was placed in the background. A disco ball was hung on a headphone cable from the lighting rig. Dan The Man set two spots on the gold covered table making it stand out against the black of the walls. Behind one seat was a chalk board on an easel. Next to the seat on the left of the stage was a stack of audio equipment topped with a Dansette turntable in a blue and white vinyl case. Graphic equalizers and mixer LED’s glowed behind excessive cables and jacks for what looked like a Frankenstein’s monster of a home entertainment system.

The Rig as it was known was part stage prop with its curly wires and constant LED movements, part multimedia PA with its tape, CD and vinyl capabilities. It usually resided plugged in behind the bar for the occasions the pub played music not already in the box. To see it on stage like this highlights the precarious and inefficient hotch-potch as quite an impressive sight.

Thirty minutes later the place has a decent sized lunchtime crowd buzzing along nicely as Ask by The Smiths trickled from the speakers. “If there’s something you’d like to try, If there’s something you’d like to try, Ask me I won’t say no, how could I?” Jars of the hair of the dog who bit the night before are now being sunk all over the pub. I was pulling pints alongside Penny and Dan The Man when Trace tumbled through the door with some of the guys and girls from the gig last night. They took a table in front of the stage and shuffled around in a bag of records ready for the proceedings. Over the wobbly harmonica outro and Morrissey’s “Na Na Nana Nana Na Na” The Smiths faded out. Uncle Vernon and Sarah took to the stage. Feet were stamped and the applause was akin to as if a band were about to play. Uncle Vernon held sway. He positioned a gold microphone on a small stand between himself and Sarah. “Is everybody in? Is every-body in? The ceremony is about to begin.” Sarah leaned into the gold microphone “Thanks for coming out everyone. We’ve got some hot contenders in the list today. To recap. At last months Jukebox Jury some old Doo Wop shit lost out to Polly Harvey’s 50ft Queenie, Metallica’s Sad But True beat out McArthur Park, Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now was replaced by Eddie and The Hot Rods’ Do Anything You Wanna Do and in the title fight Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) was smashed into pieces by an irate barmaid and replaced with Martha & The Muffin’s Echo Beach. Oh and There’s now only one copy of Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie in the jukebox which made way for L7’s Pretend We’re Dead without contest. Any questions?” Dan DaDan Dan called out from the back of the room “Where’s the roast potatoes?” Sarah looked over to the bar. I threw my hands in the air but Penny popped up behind me calling out “They need another fifteen minutes”. Sarah waved like HRH QEII as she continued with her agenda “Zippy is first up with his nomination. The case for Up The Junction by Squeeze will be heard by the Jukebox Jury. This court is in session. The right ‘onerable Uncle Vernon residing and presiding.”

Zippy approached the stage. He’d put on a dinner jacket with tails for the occasion. As he sat down at the third seat he flicked the tails out behind him theatrically. He unfolded a piece of paper from his jacket pocket then leaned towards the mic. “Ahem.” Zippy hammed it up a bit pushing his lips right up to the mic while making chk chk chk noises “I never thought it would happen, with me and the girl from Clapham, out on the windy common, that night I ain’t forgotten. When she dealt out the rations, with some or other passions, I said ‘you are a lady’, ‘Perhaps’ she said ‘maybe'” – Zippy read the lyrics like a police constable might read the statement he had prepared for the court. Uncle Vernon interjected “Zippy you can’t just read out the lyrics Man.” Zippy held his finger up to silence the judge. “I believe I can just read out the lyrics WHEN! It is entirely apparent that these lyrics are the best set of lyrics any seven inch single ever had on them. When, your honour, they are the pinnacle of pop music lyrics for all time, of all time, any time any place any where. Mi’lud.” Uncle Vernon motioned for Zippy to continue. “We moved in to a basement with thoughts of our engagement. We stayed in by the telly although the room was smelly. We spent our time just kissing, The Railway Arms we’re missing but love had got us hooked up and all our time it took up” Uncle Vernon stepped in “Nah Zip, you can’t just read the lyrics mate.” Vernon was patting himself down for his gavel. Dan The Man dashed in from behind the bar with a large comedy squeaky Mallet. Vernon held off using it as Zippy continued his play to the gallery. “I believe you will all agree. That the geniuses wot is Chris and Glenn from Squeeze have begun in this song, a love story for the ages. A story that, in just two short verses has got us all ‘hooked up’ and wanting more. These aren’t just lyrics to a pop song. This is the human condition. This is pathos, this is tragedy and beauty and cockney rhyming slang. This is The Kinks, The Jam, Sir John Betjeman, Graham Greene and William Sodding Shakespeare quality stuff. You all know the song. You all know it ends in tears. You all know it doesn’t have a chorus. And yet. When it gets to the bit when he says the title… Well, he’s had you in the palm of his hand since Clapham and you’re all in bits. It’s a song of boozy regret. It’s a happy tune. It’s beautiful in a uniquely British way. Like queuing to get into the chippy on a Friday night. We don’t mind standing in the drizzle for a fish supper because it’s who we are. We don’t have Up The Junction on our jukebox but we do have We Are Sailing. Do the right thing people of the Jury. Vote Up The Junction today.”

Sarah cued the single up on the turntable positioned next to her on the stage. The needle dropped. Now, I’m going to add a caveat here. See, I’m moved by music quite regularly. You know that already. You’ve read this far so I can assume that much is apparent… Because of this, you can rest assured I don’t say this lightly. However, right then and there in a room full of kindred spirits I can honestly say I ‘heard’ the 1979 hit by Squeeze for the very first time as it’s makers intended. It was a revelation. What a masterpiece of a record it was. Zippy was so right in everything he’d said. He wasn’t trying to score cool points or appear edgier or more cultured than the rest of us. He wanted to share his joy in the perfection of a brilliant pop song. Sure he’d done it in a funny way, dressing up then addressing the room as the occasion demanded. Ultimately though, this was one kid bowling across the playground and enthusiastically shoving their walk-man headphones on someone else’s ears. The track ended. There was a healthy round of applause and approval noises. Sarah picked up the single from the turntable and Uncle Vernon marked a 7 in chalk on the blackboard behind him before returning to the mic. “Alright you lot. Simmer down. It’s time to discuss something akin to new releases” Dan DaDan Dan booed loudly from the back of the room “I know Dan, I know. But music is like Woody Allen’s Shark. It has to keep moving forward or it dies. We’ve only got 4 releases on the whole jukebox from the last 12 months… So we are going to have a Mexican stand off between Ice Cube’s You Know How We Do It, Tori Amos’ Cornflake Girl and Weezer’s Buddy Holly.” There was jeering and cheering in varying degrees for all three records. As the needle fell on Ice Cube’s entry Penny pulled on my sleeve. She led me off to the kitchen mouthing the word ‘potatoes’. I’d happily follow any girl promising potatoes… This one though, she didn’t need to promise food of the gods to get me walking in her wake.

As we turned into the kitchen we kissed. I lifted her off the ground. Still locked at the lips, I sat her on the counter. “What about the Potatoes?” Penny asked in a mocking voice. “Damn the potatoes” I replied. She muttered “I love that album” as we continued making out. Trace came sneaking into the kitchen behind us. She set about opening the oven and removing the baking trays while we neglected our duties. “Young love is all well and good guys but if that crowd don’t get some carbohydrates soon it’ll tip over from hair of the dog to wolfs bane very quickly.” She muttered almost entirely to herself. Penny broke from kissing to speak “Excuse me Lady. Do you even work here?” Trace placed the trays of hot roasties on the stove top. “Where do you keep the bowls?” I looked Penny in the eye. “Where do we keep the bowls Coinage?” She sighed “I’m a rock star you know. I shouldn’t have to deal with this.” Penny opened a large cupboard. She handed Trace a dozen desert bowls to decant the roasted bounty into. The three of us headed out into the bar placing a couple of bowls of hot snacks on every table as we went. Weezer were getting an airing. “Woo-hoo, and you know I’m yours, Woo-hoo, and I know you’re mine, Woo-hoo, and that’s for all time! Oo-ee-oo I look just like Buddy Holly, Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore, I don’t care what they say about us anyway, I don’t care bout that” Dan DaDan Dan was chanting “Po-Tay-Toes!” For a moment it looked like Trace’s prediction could be right. By the time I was back pulling pints Ice Cube had won the stand off. A classic slice of 90’s gangsta hip hop had a place in the semi finals along side Squeeze.

Uncle Vernon had written Up The Junction 7, Ice Cube 6 on the board and crossed out Weezer and Tori Amos’ names. He looked out into the room. “Now. From the people who brought you Martha and The Muffins at the last Jukebox Jury. AND! From last nights headline act. Trace Elements and Bob Allob have a bag of records they got round the corner at Scruff’s for this very occasion. OK Flying Toasters what single are you proposing takes a place in Rock And Roll Valhalla?” The skinny bald dude who played drums in Flying Toasters was Bob Allob. He held a seven inch single above his head and roared “R.A.M.O.N.E.S! RAMONES!” Uncle Vernon shone a bat signal torch light onto Bob Allob and his record from the stage. “We already have a Ramones single in the Jukebox Bob. It would be most irregular to have two records by the same band in Rock And Roll Valhalla!” Bob stood up. “May I approach the bar My Lord?” Vernon shot right back “You may approach the stage. The bar’s that way fella.” Trace took the record. Then she approached with Bob. Sat on Bob’s knee on the third seat like she was a ventriloquists dummy. Trace flopped her arms down. “Mob handed are we?” Vernon asked. “Your Honour. Your Uncle-ness. You say it is irregular to have more than one single in the box of Juke at this ‘ere pub. But I ask. Are there not three singles by The Rolling Stones in that there box right now?” The room made an “Ohhh” noise. “Is it not also true there is David Bowie on a single with Queen and singles by Queen on their Todd and and and Zavid in his own right?” the room did more Ohhhing. Sarah stood up. “People! People! Bob is a good boy. A half decent drummer and as far as I know, not a wanted felon. And yet I feel cause to remind him that THE three Rolling Stones songs on that there Jukebox are Sympathy For The Devil, Brown Sugar and Tumblin’ Dice. Would he suggest any decent establishment remove any one of those songs from Rock And Roll Valhalla?” – There were parliamentary ‘Here Here’s’ rippling in the room. Vernon decided to back Sarah up “Further more. The two Queen tracks to which he refers are an A Side and an older single as a B-Side. So hardly a case of Mercury poisoning.” Applause from Dan The Van and from behind the bar. Common sense in a house of sillyness. Trace then threw her spanner in the works. “There are two singles by The Who in there too you know…” The audience could feel the mood turn. “I mean The Who? Baba O’ Riley and Join Together? They’re not even the right two singles.” I cried out from behind the bar “No!” Vernon, Bob, Sarah and Trace looked my way mock shocked. I doubled down. “Leave The Who alone!”

Trace did that ‘I’m watching you’ gesture with the two fingers and the eyes. Uncle Vernon addressed me directly “You’re not Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate here Young Blood. Bob Allob and his ventriloquist dummy will have their say. Then you can approach the bench, the bar, the… This table with a lava lamp on it.” Bob Allob saw his opportunity. “Thank you Uncle. Now I’m not proposing we remove Blitzkrieg Bop from the Jukebox. That way madness lays. I am however making a case for The KKK Took My Baby Away as being a perfect pop song. It is many things to many people. A 50’s rock and roll tribute to some. Political discourse to others. A funny, irreverent ear worm to many and a ‘so dumb it’s clever’ riff to just about everyone. The KKK Took My Baby Away is a better song than Join Together by The Who and I motion a takeover.” I felt so involved in this silly game it was exhilarating. Sarah took a swig of her drink and dropped the needle on one of the Ramones finest moments. The bar was rushed with customers and I felt like I never wanted to be anywhere else ever again. When the song finished Uncle Vernon made a reference to the Rock-O-Meter and scored The KKK Took My Baby Away an 8. I had a pang of anxiety. I was playing the game now. In front of everyone competing in a stupid game with both no rules and too many rules. A question of taste an humor. Vernon and Sarah beckoned me to the stage. Sarah spoke first “He’s new here but he’s already made his mark. Please welcome Big Steve the Barman to Jukebox Jury.” As I passed to the stage I was handed a pair of deely boppers to wear. I popped them on and took a seat on Bob Allobs other knee. Vernon spoke up “Firstly. We’re not going to remove Baba O’Riley from the jukebox. We’re not savages. So please, Young Blood” Sarah cut in “Big Steve” Vernon sneered “I’m not calling him that. It’s a crap nickname. Young Blood, why should we keep Join Together by The Who and not take a second single by The Ramones, which all these people love?” I cleared my throat. This was a big moment. “Do you know how many jukeboxes there are in Britain with Join Together by The Who on them? Not these CD’ ones. There’s probably a few of those. But old school vinyl? I reckon this is the only one” One of Trace’s band pitched in “That’s ‘cos it’s shit!” and got a big laugh. “Wait!” I scrabbled for control. “Join Together by The Who is a unique proposition. It was recorded around the time of an abandoned album which never got finished. It was released as a stand alone single though and it isn’t on any other major Who release. It’s on this jukebox though. This unique and *ahem* expertly curated jukebox. I’d never been in a pub like this. I’ve been to lots of dive bars and live venues but I’ve never seen as brilliant, as bonkers and as truly rock and roll a collection of Dime Bars as this place and you lot. When Sarah asked if I wanted to work here I spotted Join Together on this jukebox. I even quoted it in my interview. It’s a deep cut for the hard core rock and rollers. That’s why you should keep it. Because without songs like The KKK Took My Baby Away, or Ask or Up The Junction you’re the Fuckin’ Firkin’ but with Join Together you’re in Rock And Roll Valhalla.” I threw my arms wide like I’d just delivered the speech of a generation and there was complete silence. Then laughter. Uncle Vernon clapped his hands together and whooped. Sarah spat her mouthful of Rum and Coke across the table. “Tell you what” said Vernon after what felt like a lifetime. “We’ll keep Join Together and we’ll ditch Smoke On The Water. Everyone’s sick of that song.” I laughed along with them “Why didn’t you just say that before? Smoke On The Water? Fuck it off!” With that I felt the most at home I ever had.

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