There is not enough Pixies on SFTD. We’re almost out of time to put that right. To get things in balance, we need to go back, Back to The Head…
Here Comes Your Man: A Rock And Roll Valhalla Story
June 1997. The height of summer in the UK. It had been raining for days. This was not unusual. Wet weekends are as British as red telephone boxes, Mini coopers and setting the scene by talking about the weather. The intensity of this particular downpour seemed vengeful however. This year it seemed to have been raining since May bank holiday pretty constantly. A perma-drizzle that meant everyone arrived at the entrance to the pub shedding layers of damp clothing, sweaty and disheveled. This weekend was also Glastonbury weekend to boot. A couple of weeks previously the annual ceremonial drawing of straws had taken place. Half of the staff had come up trumps and got themselves a place on The Magic Bus. The bus belonged to a friend of Uncle Vernon. Each year Dan The Van drove it down to Somerset loaded with punks, drunks and funk to pitch up at The Avalon field and partake of The Glastonbury Festival.
Since The Head had been doing so well as a music venue, those with the longer straws were honour bound to stay behind and man the pumps. This year Steve, Dan The Man, Lorraine: The Rain and Trace Elements were among those who were sworn to stay behind. Daisy Chain Reaction, Double Steve, Sarah Bellum and Penny Black had all got seats on the upper deck. This detail was important when Glastonbury was wet. You could leave the mud on the lower deck and sleep stretched out on the old leather seats.
Inside The Head the staff were gathered for what was supposed to be a low key all day musical extravaganza. There had been plans to have five bands playing sets that included a mix of originals and covers. For the missing. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t drag their rock and roll butts to Worthy Farm could kick back and hear the songs of their people as played by off duty accountants, waiters and those kids in that metal band from the local high school who really shouldn’t be in here. The plan had been to switch hit between the bar stage and The Pigeon Club out the back. One band on inside, they finish, one band on outside. Bar, beer garden, bar, beer garden. The gaps between filled by the big silver jukebox in the corner on free-play. As the rain continued to pour down it sounded idyllic in comparison to trudging over a hillside of mud and tents looking for a stinky old bus in the rain.
Doors opened at 11 with the first band on at 13:30. It was 12:45 and staff aside there was only one stranger of a punter in the pub. He wore a wax jacket and flat cap and had been nursing a half of mild since about ten minutes after opening. It was clear he wasn’t here to see Tortilla Killa do their best Sepultura impression. Steve was starting to get twitchy about the day, about the first soundcheck and about the amount of water pouring from the guttering outside the front door. The jukebox had been displaying temperamental behavior recently. It blew a fuse last night and while back up and running right now, it’s lights had flickered more than a couple of times in the first hour of the pub being open. Given the lack of punters Dan The Man had vowed to have a look at the wiring before the room filled up. So the staff were relying on a mix-tape while Old Cloth Cap supped up and Lorraine and Trace challenged each other to juggling beer mats.
“What do we do if the band don’t show up?” asked Lorraine almost perfectly in sync with the moment Steve thought it. “Depends if an audience shows up, I suppose.” pipped up Dan from behind the sliver sarcophagus. “What if none of the bands show up?” she mused further. Trace caught the mats The Rain was juggling mid air. “Then you will have to sing to me songbird”. “Ohh. Like a “let’s put the show on right here” type vibe?”. Trace nodded her approval “Yeah Baby Girl. Here Comes The Rain, Here she comes again“. Trace clapped her hands above her head and did a wavy arm dance The Rain copied her as they shimmied back to work. The music on the mix-tape in the background switched from whatever had been on before to Debaser by Pixies. Tim Tilla of Tortilla Killa stumbled through the door looking like a drowned rat. “I’m sorry I’m late.” Steve looked him dead in the eye. “Tim. Thank God. We can’t keep this crowd calm any longer. Get straight to the stage!” Tim looked up to see an almost entirely empty pub. “Where’s the band?” he asked utterly vexed and dripping wet. “That’s your department Mister Rock And Roll Star.” shot back Trace from behind the bar. “They told me to be here half an hour ago”, “Well you beat them to it, what are you drinking?” Tim looked relieved. He took off his soaking wet long leather coat and hung it on a hook by the door. The scrawny teen was wearing classic heavy metal NWOBHM attire. Skinny torn jeans, cut off Metallica T-Shirt, Sleeveless denim jacket and studded gauntlets. “Woah, Tim. What happened to the Addidas?”. Tim laughed, “We were going to surprise you guys. Play a set of all that old shit Steve likes” Steve was already pouring Tim a drink without waiting for his order. “Oi. It’s not shit.” Trace pipped in “It might be when these guys play it”. Everyone laughed. Even Old Cloth Cap. “Nice. Can I use the phone? I’ll call Nick and see if they’re on their way” Steve lifted the hatch so Tim could step behind the bar to use the phone. He put a lager top next to the light up red rota-dial and busied himself logging the first ‘rider’ drink of the day in The Book. Nobody was picking up at the other end. Tim left a typically offensive obscenity filled message and hung up. Debaser gave way to Sonic Youth’s Sugar Kane as he sat to drink his lager top.
Old Cloth Cap made his exit somewhere between Dinosaur Jr’s Start Choppin’ and Ride’s Twisterella. Trace Elements was up on the stage setting up a the PA herself and having a little boogie as she did. Steve and Tim were watching her work. “You never saw her band did you?”, “Nope. I’m seventeen. They split up when I was like twelve or something. I heard about it from the guy who sells the guitar strings on the market. He said she was an incredible guitarist. He bought her single. Why isn’t she in a band now?”, “You’d have to ask her. I saw them first time Penny played a live show. Sister Pain were Flying Toasters support band. She’s a legend in Sarah and Penny’s eyes.” Tim took pause as if he knew he was about to cross a line. “Do you fancy her?” Steve looked really surprised. “Tim! You know I’m with Penny.”, “Yeah, I know. But she’s pretty freaking amazing isn’t she?”, “Kid. Trace Elements is one of the coolest people you will ever meet in your life. Even if that band of yours go on to headline arenas…” Tim interjected “I think we all know that is definitely going to happen” Steve pretended he hadn’t heard him “… You will look back from you mansion in the Hollywood Hills on the barmaid from The Head and think to yourself “She was one of the coolest fucking people I ever met” You don’t have to fancy a girl to admire and respect her”. Tim gazed at Trace a little longer. “Now put your tongue away she’s old enough to be your… Aunt, or something.”
One of the things about running a pub where there’s live music every night and almost all of the staff are musicians is there’s always spare gear sitting about. The Head is no exception. A slightly beaten up old KORG keyboard rests behind the PA most of the time. There’s a Les Paul copy and a cheap bass in the kitchen for emergencies and a drum stool, bass drum and cymbal from only The Dog knows where in the crawl space under the stage. Spare leads, a couple of pedals that belong to Uncle Vernon and a box of maracas, castanets and tambourines behind the bar for spontaneous covers of Sympathy For The Devil (it happens more regularly than you might think). If a band are ever short something or another (if it’s basic enough) it’s usually readily available between the cellar and the car park.
Tortilla Killa’s time slot came and went and nary a drummer or guitarist entered the pub. Two kids in Nirvana shirts did pop in and take up a table in the snug. They seemed happy enough without a band playing though as they were reading comic books from the pile in the alcove and eating hamburgers cooked up by Dan The Man.
The next band on the planned schedule was supposed to be a punk outfit called Eggbound who’d never played the venue before. Their drummer Cheeze had made it to the venue with a snare drum he’d just picked up in town. The rest of his band were also nowhere to be seen come stage time. Cheeze had introduced himself to Tim and the pair of them were trying to fulfill something resembling an entire kit on the stage while Dan and Steve took lunch orders from the gang of kids from out of town who’d made their way down for the show.
“OK, this is a bit weird. Two bands not showing up is starting to feel a bit personal.” Steve colluded with Trace and Dan behind the bar. Trace was being more pragmatic. “Well the running order is shot to shit, but I guess we don’t have to pay them either so. What do we do? Stay open. Keep the tunes coming. Hold the ladder steady.” Dan pipped in. “Act number four ought to make it at least. It’s London Colin. He’s a solo artist” Trace tutted aloud “He’s a piss artist, I hope we get a few more punters before he’s in. I can’t take that much Clash trivia to the face. Not again.” Before London Colin was due on there was still Biffin’s Bridge to play. Their guitarist and bass player had arrived but it was getting a bit spooky how there were band members missing from three out of the five bands due to play today. Bob the Bass Player had finished his load in when he was told the news their singer and drummer were stuck on the wrong side of the bridge and wouldn’t be here for a couple of hours. There was a huge tailback due to a lorry that had jack-knifed 150 feet above the river and the traffic would take hours to clear. Steve was getting a bit exasperated when Bob and Rob broke the news to him. Three for three you’re down bands that should have played so far. “OK. I’m calling it. Black-Current Jam Session!” announced Trace as she stepped out from behind the bar with the emergency Les Paul strapped over her shoulder and clanging against her legs at just above knee height. “Christ! Who wore this last Lanky Ramone?” The mix-tape was blaring out more Pixies. Dig For Fire seemed like appropriate intro music. She leapt up to the stage and plugged the Les Paul in. It was one of Steve’s favourite noises. An electric guitar being plugged in. It just had so much promise. “Denizens of The Head. I hear by decree a Black Current Jam Session is in effect. Cheeze. You’re a drummer right?” Cheeze sat down on the stall behind the assembled half a kit. “There are rules to Black-Current Jam. No blues, No jazz, No Mustang Sally. Fromage, what do you know” Cheeze smiled a shit eating grin and pointed to the air. “I know these guys. I know Pixies”. Trace nodded her approval. “Bob, Rob. You ever get Pixie Led?” Bob The Bass Player couldn’t get to the stage fast enough. “I know Doolittle inside out” Rob shook his head. “Not so much, I know Cannonball, Even Flow, Teen Spirit” Trace took the information on board. “OK. Rob. We will need you later.” Tim Tilla had sidled up beside Trace and was stood next to her like he wanted to say something. “What you got stretch?” Tim took the mic. “I got Here Comes Your Man for ya.”
Steve smiled the smile of a man happy in his work as he flicked the house lights down and the stage lights up. Trace tuned a note or two and stepped on an orange effects pedal. “OK Kids. As the Boss would say if she was here. Let’s go see the elephant!”
A clang like a broken gong rang out across the room. The two dozen punters in the pub all stopped what they were doing and turned towards the stage. That note hung in the air for a tiny moment. It was followed by a guitar line that sounds like it’s stolen from some surf rock ditty in the 50’s. “Outside there’s a box car waiting, outside the family stew hoo hoo, Out by the fire breathing, outside we will wait ’til face turns blue” Tim’s nasal whine did Frank’s lyrics no favours but the panic in his eyes showed he was struggling with the next line. Trace stepped in “I know the nervous walking, I know the dirty beard hang hang hang hangs, Out by the box car waiting, Take me away to nowhere plains, There is a wait so long”
Dan The Man and The Rain flanked Trace and chimed in on backing vocals “So long so long”. Dan The Man then took over the lead vocal. He really started reaching for the notes on the second verse. Just like a skinny baby Black Francis. The long Joey Santiago guitar line ably picked off by Trace as it rolled around again and again. You could see Cheeze and Bob The Bass Player were locked into the groove. Watching each others play by play. Nodding when the changes were suspected to be to one another. Tim was sharing lines of lyrics with Dan as they reminded each other how this song went “Is a wind makes a palm stop blowing” a mic held out for Tim “A big, big stone fall and break my crown”, Back to The Rain and Trace, only now they’re joined by the two kids in Nirvana shirts from the snug “So long so long” Trace is roaring now “Never wait so looooong”. She was out of retirement for one last time and completely lost in the music. It was beautiful. She was beautiful.
Steve looked around the room. Screw Glastonbury. Screw Disneyland. The rain may have been running down the inside of some of the windows but even still. This had to be the happiest place on Earth.