The curse of That Smell is a slight tale to tell. As I pulled out of Tim Horton’s this lunchtime with a bagel held in my mouth like a dog with a toy, listening to The Very Best Of Lynyrd Skynyrd in England’s Home Counties I smirked. I was tickled not by the juxtaposition of a Mockney Essex boy in Milton Keynes eating Jewish Canadian fast food in a German car listening to Southern Rock. I was also reminded of the curse of That Smell. Another life. Another county. Sweet Home Alabama? No. Suffolk. In the 1990’s.
Rock fans are a special breed of people. Funny, imaginative, loyal and often unfailing honest. Got to a rockers pub and watch a covers band do their set. The songs carry the heft inside those buildings that they don’t get out on the radio with the normies. Lynyrd Skynyrd are an excellent case in point. In the U.K. southern rock doesn’t go much further than Ram Jam and Sweet Home. On the BBC they’ll play some Old Gray Whistle Test footage and somehow still get back to Status Quo. But in a rockers pub. Cries of Freebird are an in joke that work just as well in Devon as they do in Aberdeen. Van Halen are the same. In the mainstream U.K. they’re the Jump Band. In a rockers pub? They’re the kings of 80’s party metal.
In one particular rockers pub That Smell by Lynyrd Skynyrd on the jukebox inspired a conversation among the bar staff and a punter about big songs casting long shadows during one quiet afternoon shift…
That Smell : A Rock And Roll Valhalla Story
Dan The Man was behind the bar at The Head one rainy weekday afternoon with the pub almost empty. Dan The Van was in. Of course. When wasn’t he? Did he even count as a customer these days? He was more a standby minor criminal installed in the bar eating an endless bowl of chips and topping up an never fully empty staff half (a staff half is where you pay for half a beer in a pint pot and it never seems to quite run out. Every time someone else buys a round another slosh tops up what was once there before. Never to the top of the glass but never empty).
As player three entered the game, the shiny chrome and glass mausoleum of great rock and roll records in the nook was clicking through its randomised setting. The occasional coloured seven inch fleeting past the window at the front of the machine among scores of black circles could give a clue as to what’s up next. L7’s Pretend We’re Dead had just filed itself away. We had previously landed on red and were now ‘ahem’ back in black. Aptly enough, Penny Black walked through the main door into The Head just in time for a new tune to work as her entrance music. A wonderful piece of symbiosis. If a similar alignment of soundtrack and action ever happens to you I suggest you bask in the moment. It’s the little things after all.
The twang and riff crunch of That Smell kicked in on the bending of the front doors hinges. There might as well have been a waft of dry ice come spilling in with the Gothic barmaids entrance, so well timed was the walk from the door to the bar in synch with the music.
Dan The Man called her name out like a medieval herald in the kings court “Miss Penny Black of The Barback Babies is in The Head!”. “Ohh Dannny Boyyyy” she hollered back. “Work or play?” inquired The Van Man from his barstool. “Day drinking for me please Bob” beamed Penny as she hopped up next to him. “Pint of Guinness and a Bottle O’ Dog please” Dan The Van began the two part pour. Steve The Wise came shambling through the open doors behind Penny carrying a gigantic flat rectangular cardboard package. Huffing and puffing at the ridiculous dimensions of the enormous box he was attempting to carry, Steve rested it over by the sound booth and made his way back toward the bar. “Steve-o” Dan The Man put the bottle Penny had ordered in front of him. “What’s that?” Dan pointed at the gigantic package. “What?” Steve was playing dumb. “That!” Dan pointed. “Don’t know what you’re talking about” Steve smirked as he kept up the charade. Dan wasn’t biting. “OK. Say no more about it shall we?” “Say no more about what?” Steve took a long slug of brown ale from the bottle.“Whiskey bottles and brand new cars, oak tree you’re in my way” Steve sang (out of tune) to both of the Dan’s present. They sang back “There’s too much coke and too much smoke, Look what’s going on inside you”. It was like a (poorly) choreographed musical inside the barely operational pub. Long hairs singing along to a jukebox tune with their beers in the afternoon.
Dan The Van broke formation first “this song is a real tragedy you know” Penny took the bait “The Skynyrd plane crash?” “Yeah. I was talking about this with Uncle Vernon one time. The band were all bang out of shape and heavy hooked on all sorts of shit. The album this song is on was only just released and then three days later the band are in that devastating plane crash that killed most of them.”
Any heavy rocket worth their salt knows the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But it was clear Thai was going to go deeper. “It’s sort of spooky that they wrote a song about being out of your mind on drink and drugs that warned “Tomorrow might not be here for you” and then they all died in a huge accident.”
Steve The Wise pitched in “Street Survivors was the album. 1977.” He took his jacket off and hung it under the bar on an old brass hook only a regular would know was there.
Penny added her take to the story “I thought you were going to say, that this great song was overshadowed by the track that went before it. On The Very Best Of album we’ve got tucked behind the bar it’s the one after Freebird. It doesn’t get a fair hearing. How do you follow Freebird with anything? This song rocks. It’s got buckets of twin guitar solos and such awesome hooks. People ride over it going for the big tunes. They skip to Tuesdays Gone after Alabama, Freebird and…” Dan The Man had made is way out from behind the hatch at the end of the bar and was in the gig space (near the gigantic parcel Steve had dragged in) he pipped in “Gimmie Three Steps is my jam Man. We do that one in the band. “I was cutting a rug in up in a place called trouble with a girl named Lindie Lou” Or something like that.”
Steve noticed Dan snooping. “Heading to the stage to give us a tune are you Dan?” Dan knew he was busted on his covert sniffing around and changed course. “Sure, why not? I associate this song with you Dan.” The Man and The Van were about to start letting some fart jokes rip. “Ohh That smell, Can’t you smell that smell, Ohh that smell, the smell of Dan is all around you.” Dan The Van was up for it. “Honestly I did one in the van the other day about twenty seconds before a copper pulled me over. It was like pulling a rip chord on a two stroke engine but for ages and ages. I was basking in the wretchedness of my own horror. By the time old bill got to the window I was hotboxing raw filth. I wound my window down and he started all the usual. “Is this your van” blah blah blah. Then his lips curled up above his teeth and I knew it had hit him full in the face.”
Penny was laughing like a drain. Steve made a face like he could feel the burn himself. Penny roared out a line from an old pop song “Don’t mess with ma toot toot”. Dan The Van finished his anecdote “After that he couldn’t move me on fast enough. Abandoned the whole procedure he did. I could see him trying to shake it out of his nose as he walked back to his patrol car”. Dan re appropriated a Dr Feelgood lyric “See the stinky Van driving round polluting crime” All four of these Head residents are splitting their sides after this. They begin swapping disgusting stores of the one time this or that thing happened. Dan The Man has quietly turned on a monitor amp up on the beer crate stage and is plugging in the old keyboard that’s been kicking around the venue for months.
Hair Metal heroes Warrant had a 1991 hit in the US with I Saw Red. Rewritten as I Broke Wind it was one of Dan The Man’s comedic masterpieces. Off the cuff without apparent preparation he sat at the Korg on the stage of the pub and tinkled the ivories (well the plastic keys) “Oh it must be the mustard inside that bap that’s given gas to me” he sang in his best Jani Lane impression. Steve, Penny and Dan The Van whooped and clapped as Dan The Man finds his groove. “Every time I dine I forget the chemistry that churns inside of me” Penny is swaying her arms in the air. Dan The Van is holding a lighter aloft. “If my wretched arse should fail, I can see it in your face, I would lift one butt cheek up and stink out the whole place” Just then, the other door at the top of the pub swings open and in walks Solveigh and two of her generals. Steve spots them, but doesn’t let Dan know he knows this performance now has a public audience. Dan continues to croon. “I broke wind, In a lift on the third floor, I broke wind, the stink just spilled out more and more, And I didn’t look to see your face, I broke wind and then I closed the door”.
The assembled party of roadie and bartenders are all over the place in hysterics as Solveigh walks into Dan The Man’s line of sight. To see his crush in the bar, in the day time, while he pissed about making silly fart joke songs jolted Dan up straight. He went beetroot red instantly. In her delicious European accent she proffered a tiny “Hello”. Solveigh and her Generals looked awkward. The poor girls must have felt a little out of place. Like three uninvited guests walking in on a private party. If Sarah the landlady had known, she would not have been happy. The Head was not about cliques. It was supposed to be welcoming to all. “Hey! Welcome! What can I get you?”
Dan leapt down from the stage and bolted back behind the bar. This only made things funnier for the other three. The magic music box in the corner made it’s next selection as if it was in on the joke, Wind Of Change. Solveigh smiled at Dan “I love this song”. Dan The Van, Penny and Steve laughed again. Dan The Man shifted awkwardly in front of the immaculate beauty expressing her love of Scorpions. Another Day in The Head. Another adventure…