The trip in time
My father died last spring. He had talked a lot about his childhood in Liverpool. He had lived there til his early twenties. He had moved to Canada, but told nothing about his first twenty years here. He had made a career as a psychologist from the late 1970s til the 2010s. He didn’t allow any of us to listen to the British popular music of the 1960s. I loved it, but I had to listen to it with my friends outside home.
I was as tall as him, but more heavily built. I had a career in sports, but later I studied in the university. I was living single and had been ill all winter. Father was trying to cheer me up as we were watching the Winter Olympics from television. When he was walking to the living room, I suddenly thought he wouldn’t last long.
There was no last will. Everything was shared between me and my three kid-sisters. We were distant to each other and lived here and there in Canada. Mother had died three years ago.
I was living in Vancouver and I was given a key to a bank deposit box. I remember father had told me a lot about it during his last months. He was sorry he had been cold and distant to his children. He told me everything was explained in the deposit box.
I had opened it. There was an old newspaper there. An old memo from Great Britain, possibly from the 1960s. My father had written a letter with “Read this one first” on the envelope. It seemed to be a story told by one of his patients:
I was in western Ontario that winter. I had agreed to meet with my small, blue-eyed blond wife in Vancouver after my assignment. I couldn’t wait to see our two infant daughters. The newspaper in the city was new and had the newest I-Tech machinery, blue text on the black background. Everything they could get from IBM. I was living literally downtown. My hotel was on a long street under a hill. The Winter Olympics in Yugoslavia had just begun.
A tall man was signing into the same hotel as me. He told the girl at the counter he had to sign in, because his car had broken. He had a long hair. He had a long, black spaghetti-western like overcoat. His head was down and his shoulders too.
He had gone to the hotel restaurant before me. He was taking food onto his plate right on front of me. I accidentally dropped my glass of milk onto the floor. He turned his head to me. His eye-brows behind mirror sunglasses didn’t move at all.
I reached for the glass. My eyes were looking at the person. I thought I had seen that face somewhere. He gave me a grouchy smile. When he was turning his back, I had to ask:
-Are you really… Normal?!
He took off his sunglasses. They touched his long, gray beard. He gave me a strange glance saying:
-Yeah. Some seem to remember me…
I wondered if a famous songwriter could really be in this town. I raised my glasses up my nose to cover my eyes. He said:
-Nobody liked me in my mirror sunglasses and I didn’t like anyone else in mirror sunglasses… The waitress came to clean up the mess.
He started to eat his continental breakfast, the usual cereals and milk. I sat to the table right next to him. He looked at me with serious eyes and said:
-Do you still believe in rock n roll sagas? Since I was quiet, he added:
-We lived one for some years. A legendary band of some sort. Some people still might ask for autographs. Those pains...
The woman in the next table recognized him. She said:
-You are Normal, aren’t you? Some magazines have pronounced you dead…
He was quiet for a long time. Finally he said:
-The celebrity is dead, not me. Getting a life after The Biddles hasn’t been easy. Never-mind there was a bigger burden for The Beings and The Zees. Every former Biddle tried something to replace, but… The fate of Witty makes me sad and Boy’s one still bothers me, to be honest.
-Can you sign me an autograph, I have always admired “Love’s streams”!
He got clearly irritated about the probable southern accent. He took the pad and to my surprise he wrote an autograph with his left hand. The woman got really offended.
-You should have told me you are not him!
The woman stepped angrily out of the restaurant, her curly grey hair waving. He turned to me and said:
-That’s a practical trick Pretty taught to me. We tricked the hopelessly dumb people by writing nasty remarks with our wrong hands. He answered to my serious glance:
-Yes, that is the origin of the myth about him being ambidextrous… Besides, I have heard enough English accents. That lady isn’t very far from northern Europe. She has obviously been living long enough in The States to pretend to be an American…
I said nothing with my north European accent. I was just watching through a window, how snow was falling down. I had hoped to see someone of the remaining Biddles. Now I didn’t know what to say.
Since I had a day-off, I went outside and walked to the far end of the street. There were old people with roots from my country and familiar food in the restaurant. Some local ingredients had been added and I liked it. When I was walking back, the winter coat I had bought from Toronto felt a bit too warm. The forecast had warned about freezing temperatures, but instead there was sleet on the streets. Some cars drove through the puddles and I cursed about splashes on my pricy coat. I did it in my mind. I could imagine, what my wife would tell me back home.
I visited the Port Club and watched a lady skier waving a white flag with a blue cross. I felt good. The rest of the day I was just lying on the bed of my hotel room, watching videos with long-haired guys wearing extra-large shoulders. The song told about final countdown. I began having erotic dreams about my homecoming. The last images in my mind before waking up were some fond touches and “Wish you were here!” with her voice.
I had brushed my teeth and combed my thick brown hair. When I went to the restaurant Normal was having his breakfast there and he was talking about difficult personalities to an older woman. I heard him talking about buying a Greyhound ticket to Vancouver. I said:
-Well, I have a brand new car and a long drive to Vancouver. I gave him my business card as an answer to his suspicious glance. After a long break he said:
-I will tell you within two hours. I have to check some things… The coffee in his cup made a strange whirlpool with his stirring.
I threw a VHS presenting our company to the back-seat, when he came from the hotel and agreed to travel with me. He said he had made a phone-call. I knew he was verifying my identity. He put a suit-case into the trunk of my car.
-We have loads of snow ahead of us, mister Rossi! It is like avoiding reality… Like a wormhole... I have loved it ever since the late 1960s. I shook my shoulders, since I was a baby at that time.
I started the engine and began driving westwards. Falling snow made strange white and blue sparkles around the car. I put the cassette “The Psychedelic Music Hall” by The Biddles into the player by pure coincidence. He started to talk about the phases of his band, me only adding some meaningless remarks:
I wonder why I am telling you all this. I will anyway. It started after I had played with them for four times.
I entered their club during my lunch-hour on Monday following the gig with them at the Ballroom. Compared to the club I had been playing in it was just a suburban cellar painted to look like something. There wasn’t too much room there. Witty, Pretty, Boy and Art were sitting in a crowded small corner. I got a beer from Ken. He had his Tony Curtis –hair and a pretty face those days. When I got my pint I tried to fit myself to the small chair somehow. Ken said “Yes, Betty!” to his mummy behind the counter.
Witty seemed unusually serious. The only expressions I had seen on his oval, narrow face had been hilarious and moody so far, perhaps depending on the stars on the charts. Pretty had his usual smile on his face, but he wasn’t saying anything either. Art was looking somewhere else with a beer bottle in his hand. Boy looked very young those days. He was just looking at me.
Finally Witty said:
-Will is going to send us to Elbe! His eyes were dead serious.
-Ohhh… I could only say. I knew Will had already sent some bands to the town. Those bands were skilled, though… A lot more skilled than this one I had just met. They were just lads, who had left schools like The Institute and The Quarry. They had only made one short tour as a minor group for Londoner. They hadn’t had a regular drummer yet. On top of all that Art had joined in and bought his bass guitar just to please his friends, Pretty and Witty. They had talked him to use his scholarship on that instead of painting.
-Do you want to see scousers and frames for the rest of your life?! Witty asked me. I smiled arrogantly; I had already seen some steel-band players in my regular club. Obviously my smile had changed into my “don’t mess with me” –face. People had told me about it, but I wasn’t aware of that.
-Life is a framework for bigger frames! he added to impress me more and made a gesture “imitating” my tall body.
-We need a frame-work for our band. The art of our bass is pretty primitive! Pretty added with his stage-smile. His eyes were looking at Art. I started to smile at their word games, but I still wanted something to convince me. I was doing all right with framing fees.
-Will has Stormy and his band… Boy said.
I knew them. I started to think. Probably Will had only this band left. They had improved since Londoner’s audition, but a band-leader’s pal with a bass didn’t impress me. Especially since I could already see some cracks in Pretty’s and Art’s friendship. On the other hand, my band’s stray bass-player had left for national service in the very beginning of the year. I hadn’t been a regular member of any band ever since.
-Fuck, we finally have a drummer! Witty shouted. He shouted so loud the waiter dropped the tray. Even the mediocre amateur band stopped playing. I smiled, both for Witty being honest and the archaic sounding band to stop. I shook his hand and agreed. They wanted to celebrate with another pint, but I had to leave for my job. Naturally people there were thinking I was crazy and my parents didn’t like the idea either. But I was already legally adult. So I could decide for myself to travel with these kids.
I don’t remember much of the trip across the channel. Well, the sea was greyish blue. The trip in a crowded van left some mixed images here and there in my memory. French and German villages looking pretty much the same. The best thing I remember is a photo taken at a memorial somewhere.
Art was as artsy as ever. In reality he wore his sunglasses to hide his shyness. Will was there with his wife and one Pakistani. I asked Pretty to sit in the middle alone. Boy was laughing at Witty’s joke at the far right. His version of a wartime slogan was “Keep calm and curry on!” and I had to wait for a second too. I descended on my drumming level, since I wanted as good photo as possible. Later the photo was published in America.
We just visited the main club. We had to do our foreign debut in a remote street club. There were only a few drunkards and prostitutes there. Will had a photo session for us before he left back to England. I hastily bought a jacket with the same colour as theirs. The shape wasn’t quite similar, but it didn’t matter. Finding the right colour in that district was very easy.
The way we posed became our standard later. Being the tallest I was usually in the middle. Boy was in the far left, Witty next to me. Pretty next to me in the right and Art in the far right.
The first three days on stage weren’t a success. We were nervous guys in a foreign country and the four others were just insecure amateurs. Well, I was a lot better than them. The Senior Band was playing at the Main and they rated us as hopeless nobodies. So no help or support from there. Not even talk after the gig. Will told us later he didn’t expect us to last long in Elbe.
The sets were grueling. We had to play for six or seven hours. I finally cracked and started to play an old piece by Cab Calloway. I started shouting the silly chorus as loud as possible. I shouted out my disappointment and frustration about this whole trip for about ten minutes. All five people in attendance, the waiters and The Biddles were watching me. I kept beating the drums until their stares gradually made me think. They didn’t know as much about jazz as I did at the time and Art wasn’t that good with his bass anyway. So, I slowed down the tempo to a more bluesy one. Gradually Boy started to get a grip and I nodded at him. That was the first time we had some kind of understanding between us. Pretty started to follow with the lower frets. Finally even Witty started to set his fingers on the right spot. Pretty turned his face to me, smiling. His eyes told me “I will show you some singing”. He was singing more to the way he had learnt from Little Richard. I kept roaring my nonsense and he added even more fuel to his sound. I did this on purpose and finally Witty had the guts to start shouting too. Boy had obviously decided not to sing yet and Art remained silent too, pretending to do something with his bass.
Despite shouting “Heidi-Heidi-Heidi-Ho” for half an hour, we liked it. We knew we had melted the ice. For the first time I didn’t regret giving up framing. “Kraut won’t shout about making show” I thought after we finally finished the session. At least I didn’t sleep in our miserable rat hole behind a cinema that night.
After that we started to do all kinds of stunts on stage, especially Witty. It was good for our reputation and we started to get a pretty big audience. The pills the waitresses gave us added fuel to our foolishness. In that sense my image as the common Biddle didn’t make me any different and it was the same with our acts with the professional girls too. All of us were specially thrilled by The Rider, as she was known back there. By coincidence her real name was Heidi. Witty, Pretty and Boy became more secure not only with their stunts, but musically too. They became almost as good as me and I started to get even better too. Art remained the same musically. He gradually made me interested about the stuff inside the frames. Our greatest moment came two-three weeks after the Heidi-Heidi-Hos, when Pretty noticed The Senior Band in the audience. He was always the most ambitious of us, so this time his smile was more sincere than usual.
But the most significant event took place next week. The locals had filled the small club because of our performance. Our rival groups came to see us too, but Grosse stepping in meant the most to us in the long run. He had argued with his girlfriend. He came as close to the stage as he could and handed Witty a piece of his art-work.
-The big rogue behind the drums is framing and Art is an artist! Witty pointed his finger at Art. That is one of the true stories from Elbe told to the public.
A few days later Grosse brought his blond and modern girl-friend Kirstie to see our performance. She impressed me a lot as a person. Witty dropped down his tough boy’s mask completely. Boy was friendly to them. Pretty and Art were very impressed. Especially Art.
–I wanted a musically stronger group. Pretty is still saying that in every interview.
I think he felt he was just a roadie at this point. He blamed Art, never mind he had told him to buy a bass. Art started dating Kirstie and eventually he even stayed in Elbe because of her. Kirstie didn’t notice Pretty and I think that was the final straw in ending his friendship with Art.
My troubles were coming from our hometown. The Stormy Band came to Elbe. They had a gig in the main club right away and they lived in hotel rooms. They had heard about our immense improvement from the other groups and came to see us. We saw them too and started hanging around with them. I noticed Boy got interested about the thin guy with a beard, Ranger. He became the favourite of the three others too. He looked like a gangster from an archetype Hollywood b-movie. Guys like him died ten minutes after the film’s start. His drumming wasn’t technically as good as mine, but he had his sound and he was in the leading group.
Because of him I became intense with painting and I got a lot better verbally. I didn’t match with his jokes, but my everyday humour got better. I was always with my group buddies and tried to get more room, since Art became even less interested about music. In the long run I changed my strategy for securing my drummer’s seat: I started to hang around with Ranger, comparing our drums and learning some tricks from each other.
-Your sticks look liked screw-drivers! he was joking to me.
-Yours are like conductor’s batons! I used to response.
The grueling conditions took their toll on all of us. Kirstie provided us food, but pills had their effect. We still took them to handle the schedule. Witty bought a pigeon from the market and fed it for a long time. A truck drove over the bird one day. Witty even broke the spare tire with a knife and caused big financial losses to the driver. I threw my new leather jacket into the river and couldn’t get it back. Because of our new image I played the rest of the sets with my worn-out leather clothes. But the worst thing happened with Pretty.
A story about getting our equipment from the cinema was created later. I know the real story: being stingy Pretty didn’t like our small fees. The kraut owning the club at Elbe gave him the final straw. We had played in some clubs without telling Will to have something for ourselves.
Pretty talked to me and Boy about our small and primitive room. I reluctantly joined them and started spreading newspapers across the space. Then he raised his left hand with a match in his fingers to look like the statue of liberty. He threw it to the nearest newspaper and that was it.
We had already moved to another club to work. We had rooms and equipment there. The owner of our old place got the local police to deport Boy. He wasn’t quite adult enough according to their laws. Little by little we got ourselves back to Liver city. None of us got back at the same time.
When I got back home I noticed I was very skinny and started to eat a lot to gain back my regular weight. A few days after getting back home I had asked my old framing job back. People in my old job hardly recognized me. My father didn’t blame me, but probably he thought “What did I say!” I heard Pretty was working in the harbour-side post office and at Massey and Coggins later. After some months Witty came to the framing shop.
He looked at me for a long time. I snarled back, I still had a bad taste in my mouth about our trip to Elbe. Witty had learnt enough about me to get straight to the point – knowing a pun wouldn’t work out this time:
-We have one gig to do in the suburb! I gave a dark grin, but decided to do this one gig.
It was in a long brick-building with two floors. The upper windows had arches. The house had been a town hall once and we were an act among others now. So it seemed, since we had to get the equipment for our performance from other groups.
When we started – being presented as a group from Elbe – the audience went mad. I noticed how much the kids really had developed as musicians. They were up to my level now. The basic group, not Art. Witty did all possible stunts he had done in Germany. Pretty could sing an Everly brothers like ballad and something like Long Tall Sally after that. Boy had learnt to play his guitar very well. I had no trouble behind my kit, though the toms and snare were too big compared to those I had played. Bass was too small and the cymbals were shite. The hi-hat I got somewhere was awesome, better than my original one. I forgot to give it back. I gave back a hi-hat to the Senior Band drummer later, but it was my old regular one. The bands returning home brought our own equipment back from Elbe little by little. I played a few gigs for those groups for free.
So, despite any expectations –even mine – I gave up my regular framing job once more. Our reputation had brought audience even to Betty’s club and we got bigger and bigger crowds. For months she was making calls to The Cave downtown for some reason. She got Will to play her game too and pretty soon we made our debut there. We got long queues during lunch-hours. While performing there I noticed the real reason for Betty’s eagerness: Ken & His Knights, Ken’s group was signed as a favour for “finding us”. He got some barbies, but the group didn’t get much attention from the rest of the audience. He spotted the club owner and other important people in the audience, though.
We were the main attraction of The Cave the whole late spring season. Witty also got his chance to write columns to a beat magazine. I used my contacts to get advertisements of the framing shop to the paper. I framed my paintings there for free. Occasionally some people bought them. Pretty and Boy concentrated more on training their musical skills. Witty was going steady with Cindy. The rest of us had a new girl almost every week. Well, Pretty had a new one every day. We were all excited about our success in Liver city, but still we wanted to return to Elbe.
Will had calmed down the Kraut by summer and got us back to Elbe with all the necessary permits. The new rooms we got were not Ritz, but a lot better than the last time. We were all glad to see our old friends there again. Art met Kirstie after a long break. After two weeks he presented his new hair. Boy asked Kirstie to do the same for him. I was surprised, since there seemed to be two units in the band at the time; Witty and Art, Pretty and Boy. As long as I got along with Pretty and Witty, I had no trouble. All of us liked Grosse. Him, Art and me had a study in an old rotten attic. I did my best to keep up with them. Our band was advertised as “The mad men from Liver City”. We did everything to live up to that and the whole bloody place was sold out every night. By autumn my biggest trouble was Ranger once again.
Boy was his biggest fan and friend, but I was hanging around with him even more. I even tried the new hairstyle. Witty and Pretty told me “Come on, Normal!” I realized it didn’t fit to my narrow hair line. Witty was mad on his crazy humour and even Pretty started to appreciate him more. No doubt about it, for a good reason. I knew someone from Dingle with a car like a Plymouth Fury was really something. The others had no guts to walk in Dingle by night. I was tall and strong enough. Dingle was like the underworld in Liver City. Ranger was tough enough to walk anytime anywhere in the German city.
My strength and unintentionally mean stare got me into big trouble in Elbe, though. Ken had been sent directly to The Main with his band. His success was nil, since little girls didn’t visit the Liver city band venues. It was definitely “verboten” for them. We were at the harbour, Boy buying a black guitar from an American sailor. Pretty tried to get some strings for a lower price. I was joking with Buddy, the Stormy Band bass player, while Ranger was trying to get a newer snare drum. We saw Ken coming to the arch right beside the tower of the harbour’s main building.
Witty saw him taking a wallet from a German sailor’s jacket. He couldn’t help saying:
-Hello, someone’s getting richer at any cost!
-Maybe his Mummy will enrich his life a bit too little! Pretty added, smiling. The American sailors had done their business and left.
Ken had Tony, his bass player, with him. The guy had been playing in the archaic band the same day I joined The Biddles.
We surrounded them. Tony raised his fists. I punched him in the face. Ken was still holding the wallet he had nicked. We all stared at them, waiting them to fight back.
Ken was just staring at us. I was probably the first one who started laughing at him. The miserable creature was almost weeping. I don’t feel proud, since everyone started laughing. Ken didn’t pay any attention to his bass player. After a few blows he just stood separately from Ken inside our group. Crying Ken dropped the wallet to the street. Harsh laughing continued for ages, all of us laughing louder and louder.
The sailor shouted the game to an end. “Halt!” sounds a bloody powerful word for stop. We separated and the sailor took his wallet. Pretty would like to have had a reward. You could see it in his eyes. He was quiet because of the rest of us, just smiling. I saw Tony leaving Ken and strutting down his nose.
Since Ken’s mummy wasn’t in Elbe, the others had guts to sack him. The Kraut was looking at us tightly, since he had liked the Mummy’s boy. Ken had to be a waiter for the rest of his time in Germany to get enough money to go back to Liver City. The band took his kit and talked a South-African guy with glasses to play the drums. They changed their name to The Roulettes right away.
In Elbe Art finally left the group. Witty was angry. Boy probably took it as an inevitable thing. Pretty could hardly hide his happiness. I had mixed emotions. I knew I wouldn’t make arts with him that much anymore. As a bass player I didn’t miss him at all. I told Pretty to buy a funny-looking bass from one shop. It was designed for lefties. He did so and I enjoyed his bass playing in the long run. He came from a musical family and learnt pretty fast. His style was seemingly easy. Art had started to faint and have difficulties with his walking. In that sense change was welcome too. Yet I had no idea, how bad his condition really was. I didn’t have any idea Art had been hit by a boot in a gang fight before I had stepped in.
Then back to Liver City. We got an even bigger audience in The Cave there. Being in leather clothing in a damp club made us sweat. We had to wait for some time after shower to get back home. But nothing could beat our feeling. Art was a nice guy to me, but Pretty was the bass. We were rocking like never before. I had to say after one stormy performance:
-One step closer to top…
-We might be getting to the top… Witty told me and Pretty:
-This is just the biggest molehill!
We even got an organized fan club. We felt funny, since most girls in Liver City had been digging American stars. The pop-idols, or like Witty called them: bobby-dolls. The girl was doing it in her free-time and we were signing some fan photos for the very first time. Not many compared to the visitors from America or London.
Then a trip back to Elbe again. Our fan club gave us a farewell party. We were competing with The Stormy Band in town. Wrecking an old stage there made an even bigger impression to the audience. Art was hardly walking and we were all very worried. Especially Pretty, he was reviving his friendship. Whenever all of them were together with Ranger, I became restless. Witty had started to quote his jokes, Boy was even better friend with him. Pretty started seriously appreciate him after he had heard about the Plymouth Fury.
-Could you sell me one? I was joking to Ranger. As a precaution I was even more friendlier than before.
We had to face Will and try to get a better contract. He considered me as the most sane Biddle, so I had to make the ultimatum. I made it extremely clear we wouldn’t play for such low wages. That was the first time I punched some boss in these circles. I unintentionally broke his nose.
Our fees were paid in Elbe. No-one knew what would happen after the contract with Will would expire. We were performing wild, drinking beer and meeting other bands. I met Grosse, Art and Kirstie as often as I could. Whenever there was time, I painted in the attic. We even recorded a sailor song there as a backing band. It was a step forward and we celebrated it with cheap champagne in our residence. Meanwhile Art was painting like mad… Kirstie was worried how he would last in his condition.
After our return to Liver City we were our own managers. For months it was me and Pretty, already then interested in fees, who were running the business of the band. But neither of us was quite good enough yet. Our energetic performance was also stuck to routine. Luckily the audience didn’t notice that during all those months. We got our first gig outside Liver City and Elbe. Because of our inexperience there were only ten people there. But they noticed all their money was worth it. The beer as a compensation was tasty too. I wonder how I got our van and our-selves back home in tact. Witty was picking everyone as he did after some beers. We had got used to it.
Some weeks after that we got a backing person we needed. Not a great businessman, but very good with P.R. … He asked me about the sailor song recording and found it after weeks of hard work. It was a sell-out in Liver City. He invented a pseudonym to secure one copy remaining in the store. The pseudonym is in encyclopedias as a real person today. Most of all he was interested about our show. Gradually he started to change our image into more mainstream. As first step we started wearing leather vests. Those months I noticed playing drums in that outfit was a lot easier. I was worried about the reactions of the audience. Number of hardcore rockers grew a slight bit smaller, but the non-leather jacket audience grew bigger.
With little suggestions that guy called Nem got our language on stage more acceptable. It took some time from Witty to get used to it. For Pretty it was more like a piece of cake. I made some mean glances as a memento from our leather-days. I made the rockers happy with that, but I gradually started to watch my language on stage too. Boy smiled quietly, he knew it was all he needed. As a lead guitarist he was on the spotlight anyway.
A bit later Pretty accepted wearing suits first and I was right beside him. I had liked our rough image, but I knew it was impossible to make big time with it! Probably not even with our milder image. Finally Witty accepted it. At first he was grouching at me a lot. Boy accepted the majority. After some months we got a chance for Granada TV with our new image. We felt relieved the new image had paid off. Pretty had been more secure about our basic act still remaining powerful enough than the rest of us.
Meanwhile Nem was unsuccessfully trying to get us signed to a major record label. It was bloody difficult to get a contract for a northern group. I heard it would have been the main reason for the first label not to accept us. But Nem chose complete crap for most of our demo tape too. Witty made him cry for days by telling him never to interfere with music again. When Nem was in the dead end, he sent us to Elbe once more. A new manager, an old routine. Shite! I was thinking about it.
We heard Art had died of a brain hemorrhage. Boy was feeling bad, Witty and I were devastated. Pretty was the most broken one. He had just renewed his friendship. As a tribute I painted for Art. Grosse and I gave up the crappy attic. Kirstie still has Art’s paintings, I think. We were playing like hell all those months. Audience added fuel and we were still using pills. Meanwhile Nem had found a new way to get us to a record label; he said he wouldn’t buy records if The Biddles wouldn’t get a contract. Finally he got us a chance for a minor label of EMI.
We were very delighted to hear that in Elbe. We had our most energetic performances for a long time . We drank a lot of cheap champagne with ourselves, Kirstie and Grosse. A new year showed all its brightest sides the next few days. The rider had the rides of her lifetime. Somehow I had a strange hunch about the future. I think it was the tone of their talks.
I faced a very big problem at that time. Witty was full of Ranger’s jokes, Pretty had started to talk about him more and more. Boy had influenced both.
We had returned to Liver City for spring and summer. For the first time we got proper gigs outside our two hometowns. The reception was good. But Boy was as quiet as usual. Witty and Pretty were growing slightly distant to me. While making an interview for the beat paper editor in chief asked me if I knew they were going to sack me. I replied:
-I’ve had a hunch for a long time. Being the most popular one doesn’t secure anything. Even if it is the reason for a meeting at Pretty’s I suggest you to tell your readers it was my choice. I don’t want my fans to break Ranger’s new car.
I didn’t tell him I had asked one Jamaican steel-band guy if he was interested in bass. I had met Witty’s former Quarry band guitarist too. I thought to name my new band The Chums or The Chaps. I hadn’t done anything to form the group yet. I was still hoping to remain in The Biddles. Since I couldn’t compete with Ranger with my everyday-like humour, I had started to train my drumming like mad.
In the meeting I noticed the luckiest thing for me was Cindy, Witty’s girl-friend. She had told her belly got round. So, Witty had had this problem. He hadn’t been thinking about the band that much for some time. When he had thought about his life in the long run, he decided no changes would be made in the group. Since he had the most say, the others accepted the decision. I got the impression the meeting was Witty’s idea.
I got Cathy at the time. A tall blonde, who had come to ask for my autograph. I told her our regular inside jokes. I fell for her after she came for the second and the third time. She was the best thing in my life for some precious years. Ironically, in a physical sense I wasn’t any more loyal to her than Witty with Cindy. I mean on tours. But certainly it was love between us. Whenever I was at home, I gave the best possible support to this girl from a broken Irish-catholic home. Her love gave me more energy for my performance.
Some weeks later I easily passed the test of the sound engineers of Label. Martin accepted me as a good technical drummer. No wonder, he definitely recognized some jazzy influences in my drumming. Our love song single went into the British top twenty. Naturally it meant more gigs. For the next three weeks we had lunch every time we heard the song on the radio.
That meant our first national interviews too. But Martin insisted on having a professional songwriter’s song for our next single. We absolutely opposed the idea. We did a version of it, but he had to accept our northern stubbornness. He might have been frightened about my glance for the first time. We insisted him to give the how-to-do song for The Stormy Band. Despite the band was about to break up, all of us wanted to give a kind of compensation for Ranger. Especially me… Our pleasing song went on top and made Witty-Pretty a proud song writing team. Martin was right with the how-to-do song too, it went number two with The Stormy Band.
The next single was our second number one, just like Martin had predicted. Little by little, assisted by the press, yes, our success turned into a mania. We started to get gigs all over Britain. A single right after that spread the mania all over Europe. The gigs became gigantic and we got them more than we could dream of. At first you like it, but at least for me after about six months it felt the same. Never mind if you were in England, Holland, Finland, Sweden, wherever…
We were sitting in a dressing room in Hammersmith. Every one of us was talking about our success that year. Witty was encouraging everyone to get to the top of all tops. He joined Pretty with guitar and they started forming some kind of rhyme about holding hands. When Witty lighted his cigarette I noticed his tiredness. After smoking a while he said:
-If we get to the top of all tops ever… when he was depressed, he was depressed.
Boy broke the long silence and said:
-I suppose even Normal wants to see the mountain top!
I gave him a glance and a laugh. That was the best thing he ever told me and I knew his meaning: the thing keeping us going was the United States of America. But we had agreed we wouldn’t go without a number one there. Too many Brits had failed there before. Witty and Pretty got their song together for beginning of the next year and that was it!
There were talks about the death of the president making us real big there after a lousy success earlier. Pretty probably still doesn’t like those talks. The mania there was as big as on the other side of the Atlantic. I was the most popular as “the regular guy”. Ha, I was just as high and got laid with call-girls just like the others. I think we really made it after appearing in Ed’s show.
The old guy was enthusiastic about us right from the rehearsals. A few times he did secretly grind his teeth for Witty improvising live. He kept his talks about intact and Pretty talked his more showmanship talks. I added some everyday-like jokes and a few times Boy gave very witty remarks. I suppose people remember best my answer to Ed’s question about being famous:
-It is like being normal in an oddball-land! Boy added:
-We even call him Normal! I couldn’t help smiling at him. He smiled back. Then we performed the hand-holding song.
Back home I got a new set of Rogers as a gift from the drum company. Thanks to The Biddles the sales had doubled and the new kit was named “The Big Biddle”. But we lasted only for a short time on the top of all tops. Another group got its chance.
The Beings had a hit, a folk song from America. They had turned it into an electric version. The Beings had a big argument about the group’s musical future at the Cave in Liver City. They decided to perform as agreed and Birdy and Pricy hired Ranger and Buddy from The Stormy Band. Their Liver fans got furious for them leaving their group. The Beings fans got equally furious for sacking the founding members. The majority of the audience bought their single about crying, written by Birdy and Pricy, like mad. The mania over them was a wave covering everything like nothing before. They started writing more and more songs for their new crazy style. Stormy didn’t have any touch with his new band members and no-one heard about the former members of The Beings again. I felt bad, though I knew Stormy had been a friend of Ken’s and he never forgot the Elbe incident.
After their break-through in the US they got a rival. Unfortunately our energy wasn’t quite enough. By chance a manager visiting our studio got an idea; he had seen Witty and Pretty wearing glasses in the studio. He told his best band’s members to give up their glasses and wear contact lenses, if necessary. He told them to shorten their name from The Living Deads to The Zees. It worked and they became “the more melodic option”.
They had their mania. Meanwhile we were making our first movie. Witty and Pretty wanted a different bandmovie. They got one. We liked the concept about our regular day before concert. The screenwriter kept the basics, but polished some edges. Witty could act, Boy too. Pretty thought he could act. The director had his biggest and loudest instructions for him and me. He did his best, but as an actor I was just an awkward school-boy. The movie flopped everywhere. The singles making hits never included any story about the songs being included to the soundtrack. We were doing loads of gigs, but you could see the two others beating us in popularity. It was the same with the charts. We all took it very hard and started to use a bit harder substances. We started drinking more too.
The album next spring had separately written songs named to Witty-Pretty. Witty was crying for help in his topten-hit. He was longing for his dreams to come true one day. He was afraid of losing them. The critics found some gospel, but they didn’t listen to the lyrics. Pretty had a topten-hit about missing yesterday. He dreamt about getting the lost dreams back. He wanted it to sound like folk-rock. While recording them Witty told me:
-We had a different film, but it turned out normal! I could play my drums, but…
The next movie intended to us was given to The Beings. Ranger got praise for his comical skills. He had become the biggest joker of The Beings. He told the press about the MBEs given to the Zees:
-That’s another day of avoiding reality!
He was visiting Pretty’s house the next day. He was having a party there and he had just bought it. There were old friends from Liver City. Grosse and Kirstie were also there. Nem seldom got out of his circles. I greeted him with a smile on my face, surprised.
I was wandering around and admiring Pretty’s brand new house. When I noticed Jones from The Wanderers talking to a girl from Liver City I quite intentionally gave him my meanest glance. I had heard enough about him. The girl told me later Jones was just pale on the couch the whole evening. At least I have saved someone.
Pretty was presenting his house to the tv-people. He greeted me. Then he greeted Tony. I noticed the grudge between us two was still there. I was smiling like a shy schoolboy in a photo. Tony was pretentiously calm. He told the tv-hostess he would focus more on song-writing in the future. The news about breaking up of The Roulettes had just come out. Pretty was telling about Liver city people sticking together to the tv-hostess. He was surrounded by his friends. We couldn’t move away from the corner. He talked for a long time to the tv-camera and then he gave me a smile. When the tv-crew finally moved elsewhere I took my jacket and angrily went home. I heard Pretty had had long talks with Tony.
When The Zees released their single “Another day (of avoiding reality)” we were wearing folk-rockers suits for the cover of our next album. I had got married with Cathy. Witty had been busy going to Harrod’s with Cindy. Pretty had been busy going to an art gallery. Boy came to congratulate us before visiting Ranger. Witty’s unfinished song was given for me to sing and I wrote a new middle-eight. I was just an awkward singer. Despite adding nice jazzy tones to my part the critics were harsh. Pretty was influenced by The Zees and re-released his yesterday song with strings and no other Biddles. It was a lot better, but never hit the charts. The Beings and The Zees were the only ones competing for the absolute top-spot. Witty angrily told me:
-That saying would have been fucking useful for me! I was watching my Rogers “The Big Biddle”. Ranger had two new kits from the other company as a gift. Witty wanted more and more takes on a song about Rider. His lyrics told about a ride, but we knew the real meaning. He gave the solo for Pretty as a silent apology of clashing egos. It was number five on the charts, The Beings and The Zees had the top four songs on both sides of the Atlantic. When we were touring, we noticed the tide had turned to them on stage too.
Grosse designed a good cover for us next year and for The Beings too. My main interest was Emily. The daughter took too much my attention from music. The album sold well, but remained in the shadow of The Beings and The Zees albums. Birdy and Pricy knew even better how to use Ranger’s sayings for their songs. I became more and more irritated about being called “Normal”. I was painting like never before. After the album we all took vacations. Witty went to France to the art galleries, Pretty wanted to see Africa. I don’t know what Boy did. I took my family to Canada. I found the Canadian Indian’s drumming there. I thought saving the band with it. I tried to make myself worth again. It didn’t turn out that way.
Our vacations took a lot longer than planned. The Label published a greatest hits collection and two top-ten hits. They were songs Witty and Pretty had originally written for our album. But they hadn’t considered them good enough to be included in it. We were still in our destinations. I was drumming the Canadian Indian drum all the time. I didn’t follow the music scene at all. I wanted something more to the drum-sound I had found.
While making a movie The Beings found India. Now they had made their cult-album called “San Franciscan nights”. We got back together again. Martin tried his best with our album, The Psychedelic Music Hall. Witty and Pretty did a good job and Boy had a philosophical song. I think it would have needed something more musically. When I met Burdy and Ranger in Ranger’s new house, they got me into Indian music. Ranger was more into it for their drumming. My interest got our train off the tracks. I started to tape the Indian drum sound and combine it with some tapes I made at home with Canadian Indian drums.
We were still in the shadow of the two biggest names. We felt it just wasn’t enough. Witty calling me “Normal” had turned to the nastiest and meanest remark he could use. I heard that all the time between every take. Pretty kept always saying “Could you do it a bit less conventionally?” Boy was even quieter to me than usual. So, I had it and wrote “Love’s Streams”. I stopped the lift of the EMI headquarters to get a proper snare drum sound. The executives got goose bumps because of my glance. Martin got very nervous because of me. The sound technicians in the studio were the most scared for my sake. By coincidence I met one of them sometime ago and he said:
-We thought “even him going that way…”
Cathy lost her nerve, because I was with a tape recorder at the nursery all the time to get a proper echo with the Indian tabla drum.
I guess it took 105 versions. But finally I found a proper combination of Canadian Indian, Indian and traditional western drumming. Everyone was awed. The critics, the other Biddles, The Beings, The Zees and Martin. Not to mention the nerve-wreck technicians. I had become even more difficult for them than Witty or Pretty.
I have been haunted by “the instrumental of all time” even today. I feel bad these days, since Pretty’s song about leaving home was good with its flutes and all that. Witty’s song about Lucy was good. Their team song about life was good too. Witty said:
-Very skillful drumming… though normal! Good reviews about that change to the middle-eight of Pretty’s didn’t save my day.
None of those songs were noticed well enough because “Love’s streams” was published as a single hitting number one in almost every known country. They opposed the release, I didn’t. They were grouching, but kept their mouths shut.
Following autumn my life took its saddest turn another way too. Jones from The Wanderers was paying a visit to our apartment and started his usual approaches. He was beating women he got or tried to get. I came home too early and beat the crap out of him. Cathy swore she didn’t encourage in any way. I believed her, but still it lead to a crack in our relationship. The friendship of The Biddles and The Wanderers came to an end too.