|Ticket to Ride (posted on: 12-03-04) |
Ticket to Ride
Graham Sclater, the author of this book, spent much of the sixties living and working as a musician in Hamburg. Ticket to Ride is an account of some of the events that numerous English groups experienced and wished to forget. It is dedicated to the many musicians that failed to survive the trauma and return to England.
During the mid sixties, at the peak of the English group scene in Germany, dozens of groups made the short journey across the English Channel to northern Europe in search of fame and fortune.
This novel follows the exploits of a naïve under aged five-piece group from the south west of England as they made their futile search for success in Germany. Although they set out to follow in the path of the Beatles, they soon fall deep into the world that their contemporaries were fortunate enough to escape.
Based predominately on the Reeperbahn, the red light district of Hamburg, the group is soon dragged down, their lives affected forever by the everyday world of prostitution, sex, drugs and violence, resulting in a total breakdown of the values that they had once believed in.
Realising, too late, that they have no way out, the story charts their desperation and untimely failure.
''Given the opportunity I would do it all over again.''
Reg Simms - 1967
Ticket to Ride
39 Cordery Road EXETER EX2 9DJ Tel 01392 - 279914 Fax 01392 - 498068
Ticket to Ride
1 Hello Goodbye
2 The Times They are a Changing
3 Let It Be Me
4 Shaking All Over
5 Shapes of Things
6 Promised Land
7 Rescue Me
8 Rock around the Clock
9 She's a Woman
10 Anyone Who Had a Heart
11 Let's Spend the Night Together
12 It's all in the Game
13 I Think I'm Going Back
14 Keep on Running
15 Wishing and Hoping
16 I Should Have Known Better
17 What Kind of Fool am I?
18 Whatcha Gonna Do about It?
19 The Price of Love
20 Just One Look
21 Candy Man
22 Somebody Help Me
23 Help Me Make It Through the Night
24 Strangers in the Night
25 Heroes and Villains
26 It's Too Late Now
27 Cryin' in the Rain
28 Town without Pity
29 What a Difference a Day Makes
Ticket to Ride
The mid to late sixties was a magical period, never to be repeated. Everyone had hope, none more than the young people did.
The new generation - my generation.
Everything was possible and, if you had a dream, you could achieve it. Conscription was abolished, there was little or no unemployment and, whilst some of the jobs were no more than a way to earn enough to buy the latest fashionable clothes, LP or 45 by your favourite group, there was a feeling of optimism as things began to happen so fast, especially in the world of fashion, music and drugs.
The Mods tried to rule, egged on by groups like the Who, Small Faces and the Kinks, whilst the Rockers tried to hold on to their old Rock and Roll heroes of the late fifties and early sixties, such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Billy Fury and, of course, Elvis Presley. Although initially choosing to ignore the new sounds, they would soon become very aware of the new styles of music played by groups like the Rolling Stones, the Troggs, Status Quo, and the numerous American groups and artists who suddenly appeared, and who just as quickly disappeared back across the Atlantic. The exceptions were Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the never-ending stream of black artists producing record after record of the inspirational, rootsy soul music.
The Sixties was the era of Flower Power, massive outdoor Pop concerts, which began with Woodstock, Super groups, all nighters at clubs and parties, drug experimentation, Radio Luxembourg, James Bond, and Brian Matthew's Saturday Club. The numerous floating Pirate radio stations forced a new wave of national radio to burst onto the scene with, the inevitable launch of Radio One, and the equivalent Television Pop Shows such as Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops.
Anyone who wanted to play a musical instrument, provided that they could find the deposit and a sucker to sign as a guarantor, could get H.P. for whatever instrument they wanted. Whether they could play it, or would ever strike it rich, was another matter.
The more proficient, confident, but often foolhardy musicians travelled to Germany, following in the path of the Beatles to try their luck in the larger cities such as Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Frankfurt, where the clubs and German girls had an almost insatiable appetite for English groups.
Some made it. The majority didn't - this is the story of one of them.
Ticket to Ride
It was still unusually cold for a mid February morning and, although the wintry sun shone brightly out of a clear blue sky, it had little effect on the frost, which lay thick on the fields, gardens and roofs of the small Devon town.
A thin blue haze hung over the houses as the chimneys poured out thick acrid smoke from the early morning coal fires and up into the cloudless sky travelling high above the rooftops of row upon row of identical red brick terraced houses.
The mud splattered overloaded rusty van made its way uncertainly between the contrasting bright sunlit pavements and the heavily shadowed frost covered roads. Leaving deep tyre tracks as it pulled into the kerb and came to a standstill at the corner of the street.
The driver's door slid noisily open and a tall gaunt young man climbed out and with a sigh of relief leaned against the van tilted his head back towards the sun and smiled.
Even though he was wearing a thick dark blue army surplus ankle length overcoat, fingerless gloves, a long scarf which he had wound several times around his neck and a woollen hat under which his long greasy hair hung unevenly down onto his narrow shoulders, he stood shivering.
For a split second he seemed to enjoy the clear crisp morning. It was however short lived, and as he coughed and shook with the cold he thrust his hand deep into the overcoat pocket pulling out a soft packet of Lord cigarettes and a shiny Zippo lighter.
The dented passenger door slid open jerkily grinding against the rusty bodywork. A young, petit, pretty longhaired girl jumped out. She threw her scarf around her thin bare neck, straightened her full length creased overcoat, and after snatching a cigarette from the driver shivered as she walked around to the rear of the van and opened the rust encrusted doors.
While the driver stood impatiently watching her he subconsciously kicked his well-worn black leather boots at the pavement and tried to warm up his freezing feet.
The girl climbed onto the rear bumper and reaching high up into the darkness poked blindly at a pile of old blankets on top of the equipment and yet another passenger.
Sympathetically, she gently helped the sleepy, sickly, frail passenger to slide down, and out onto the pavement. While he stood unsteadily, shaking and coughing she tugged at the tangled mass of ripped and filthy blankets pulling one of them down and smelling it before wrapping it around him.
Slowly and painfully he raised his head and temporarily blinded by the sun he squinted. He turned his head erratically from side to side and finally recognising the corner house directly in front of him he nodded to the young man and girl.
Although the van had been stationary for only a few minutes, the remaining passengers inside the vehicle began to get impatient and bawled at her. "Come on Ronnie. What's the sodding hold up?''
''We wanna get home as well you know.''
''Yeah, we're freezing our balls off in here.''
Ronnie suddenly lost her temper and responded immediately. "Shut up you lazy bastards. Just give us another minute will yer?''
She began to walk towards the passenger door but before reaching it she stopped abruptly and hammered repetitively against the side of the vehicle with her tiny hands. As she continued to vent her anger on the van and its disagreeable occupants she screamed at them in a high-pitched and almost melodic voice. ''You'll just have to bloody well wait until I'm ready. What difference do you think another few minutes is going to make to you idle sods? If your want to get home then get your lazy asses out here and help us."
Their response to her was total silence.
While the driver wrestled with some of the van's contents, piling them on the pavement against the wall of the house, the pathetic character, still wrapped in the filthy blanket, managed to stumble across to the front door.
Ronnie, her age belying her girlie looks, immediately ran over and propped him up against the door while the driver, now satisfied with his handiwork, walked back towards the van, slid open the door and, as he stood shivering, lit another cigarette, slowly shook his head from side to side and watched unbelievably as she carefully wrapped the stinking ripped blanket tightly around her patient.
The driver, now beginning to lose his patience shouted angrily at her. "Come on Ronnie, we gotta go now.'' She gave him a stern look but he continued to repeat his request in a much softer voice. ''Oh, come on Ron, we've done all we can for him let's go."
''Yeah, can't we fuck off you've done your good deed for that day.''
''For what it's worth,'' shouted the occupants from inside the van.
Totally ignoring them, she continued to concentrate her efforts by gently patting her passenger reassuringly several times on the back and shoulder. "Good luck Reg, you should be alright now."
The slight movement of his head was all the appreciation he could manage.
As Ronnie walked towards the van, she glanced back at him once more before getting in and noisily sliding her door closed.
While the van pulled away in a cloud of smoke Ronnie sat gently rubbing her cold hands and concentrated on giving directions to the impatient driver. But as soon as they were on the open road her thoughts returned to her departed passenger. "I hope the poor sod's going to be alright.'' She shook her head slowly, ''He's such a great player."
For a while the driver ignored her, cleared the windscreen, and lit yet another cigarette, but after driving for a few minutes, he turned and gave her a look of indifference. "He was once…. who really gives a damn? We should have left him back in Hamburg."
The driver took a deep drag of his cigarette, changed gear and pretended to concentrate on his driving.
Summoning his strength, Reg pressed the doorbell then slumped awkwardly down onto one knee and started coughing again. An attractive woman wearing a flowery apron answered the door. She looked tired and drawn, and although still relatively young, her shoulder length grey hair had aged her dramatically, making it difficult to even hazard a guess at her real age.
At first, she saw no one, but looking down, she noticed the stranger slumped on the top step draped in the filthy blankets. Taken by surprise, she stepped back a pace before speaking. "Can I help you?" she asked nervously.
He mumbled to her but she had great difficulty making out what he was saying, and hesitated before she nervously repeated her question.
"I'm sorry, but can I help you?" she took a step back unsure of the reply she was going to get.
"Mum…. it's me… I've come home," He whispered.
As Reg finished the last few words, he slid down onto the bottom step fighting for breath.
A young teenage girl, wearing a long pink fluffy dressing gown and matching pink slippers, now joined the woman at the door. "Who is it mum?" She asked inquisitively.
"I don't know," screamed the woman, becoming impatient and not knowing how to react.
She bent down and nervously lifted the filthy coloured scarf off the stranger's face. Seeing his gross disfigurement, she jerkily pulled her head back. "It can't be."
She continued to stare at the contorted pale lifeless face.
"My God," she screamed. "It's Gerald. Come on Jenny help me get him inside."
''Gerald?'' repeated the young girl.
They struggled to lift him into the darkened front room and laid him gently on the settee. His mother propped up his head with one of her best hand embroidered satin cushions, then gently covered him with the coats hanging on the back of the door. She started to shake uncontrollably, reached into the pocket of her apron, opened her purse, and blindly passed her daughter a handful of coins. "Jenny, go and telephone Doctor Hutchings."
"But mum, I'm not dressed," pleaded Jenny.
"Go on…'' Her mother lost concentration and stood staring at Gerald, mesmerised, unable to take her eyes off him.
''Mmm….u ….mmm'' replied Jenny voicing her embarrassment.
''Don't worry about that, … just hurry up. Go on."
Jenny looked at her mother unused to being shouted at and without another word; she left the house and ran across the road to the public telephone box.
Gerald coughed heavily and started to fight for breath.
His mother took one look at him rushed into the kitchen and returned seconds later with a small brown bottle. She carefully shook out a yellow tablet, pushed it into his mouth, and forced it under his tongue. Still shaking, she stood looking down at him, in sheer disbelief.
"Gerald, why didn't you tell me that you were in trouble? We could have done something to help you."
She stared across at the large cardboard box in the arm chair containing the letters that she had read and reread every evening before finally going to bed and crying herself to sleep.
Gerald lay semi-conscious staring at the spotless front room, the flower patterned wallpaper complemented by brightly coloured curtains and carpet. Two large cut glass fruit bowls; used only at Christmas, lay empty on the highly polished rosewood sideboard, while the shiny veneered walnut radiogram stood silent in front of the window shaded from the sun by the grey venetian blinds. The empty open fireplace that had not seen a piece of coal since the Christmas before last when he had left for Germany, and in pride of place on the mantelpiece was a photograph of Mrs Simms flanked on either side by a him and his sister.
He lay still, failing to move, too ill and tired to react or attempt to answer his mother's question.
Jenny soon returned pleased with her efforts, speaking as she exhaled, but short of breath the sentence ended in a whisper. "The doctor will be here as soon as he's finished his surgery."
Gerald's mother took her eyes off him for a split second and smiled, silently thanking her daughter.
While they waited for the doctor, they both sat staring, the woman at her beloved son and Jenny at her elder brother, each of them silently and gradually becoming more and more aware of the seriousness of the situation.
"Mum, he looks so old, but he's only… seventeen, and look at his face."
Gerald's mother knelt on the floor beside the settee holding her son's hand and stroking his matted hair. "I know, but he's home now, and it's up to us to help him the best we can to get better."
She tried hard not to cry, but the tears continued to build up until she could no longer contain them. Through her tears, she could only see the blurred images. The weeks of near starvation, when he lived on the very edge of existence were etched deep into his drawn face. The dark black shadows around his sunken eyes, the yellow poisonous lumps that covered much of his deathly pale face, the open sores around his mouth and nose, and beneath his long greasy hair, the festering spots on his neck and ears.
Gerald still found it extremely difficult to breathe and continued to cough loudly. Each time he coughed, he urged from the depths of his empty stomach, and his whole skeletal frame shook violently, distressing his mother and sister, who could only watch helplessly.
Jenny tried to comfort her mother; something that had become second nature to her since Gerald left them a little over a year earlier. She felt for her mother and tried desperately to take her mind off the shock at seeing her elder brother looking so ill. "Shall we try and get him upstairs Mum?"
Gerald moaned in pain, answering the question for her.
"No, just leave him where he is. The doctor will be here in a few minutes, let's just wait and see what he suggests before we do anything," replied her mother.
The wait seemed like an eternity, but when the doorbell finally rang, Jenny rushed to the open door and led the doctor into the dimly lit front room.
Doctor Hutchings knelt down beside the settee and stared at Gerald for a moment, getting accustomed to the poor light, before he opened his bag. After meticulously checking his patient, he gave him an injection, sat on the edge of the settee and, still holding Gerald's wrist he continued to subconsciously take his pulse, before finally putting his stethoscope back into his case.
"Mrs Simms, could I speak to you alone?"
She didn't hear him; he turned to look at Jenny and continued to stare at her, until reluctantly she left the room.
"I've given Gerald an injection of Cortisone, that should help his chest." He turned awkwardly to look down at his patient. "How on earth did he get like this? I must be blunt, I've seen starving animals in better condition.''
While he waited for an answer, he pushed the coats tightly around Gerald's shrunken body.
Unable to take her eyes off her prematurely aged, sickly, and skinny son, she slowly replied. "Gerald's been in Germany"
He gave her a concerned look. "In the forces?"
She still couldn't look directly at the doctor and replied nervously to his question. "No … he played in a group."
Doctor Hutchings suddenly losing some of his concern nodded. "Maybe that explains it." He paused, looked down at Gerald and then sternly at his mother. "He is extremely poorly Mrs Simms. He's emaciated, he has pneumonia, a serious chest infection and…. I can't be sure, we will need to carry out tests, but I think that Gerald…" He paused before finishing his diagnosis and slowly shook his head. "…your son… well… he may have also contracted Syphilis."
"Syphil…" She couldn't repeat it.
As far as she was concerned the word was taboo, anyone with that disease was considered dirty and she knew it was often fatal.
The doctor sensed that she was embarrassed and tried to put her at ease. "Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'll arrange for an ambulance. We'll get him into hospital and in a few days we'll know one way or another."
Ticket to Ride
The Times They are a Changing
The Cheetahs had only come together by chance.
Never failing to seize any opportunity Dave Simpson was in the right place and the mid sixties was certainly the right time.
He was a little overweight and not particularly good looking, but he was already the singer of a successful local dance band and at 21, he already learnt how to take care of business, having gained the experience from his crippled mother Freda a local theatrical agent.
Dave's parents, Jim and Freda met at the local dance hall at the beginning of the war. Jim, a printer by trade and considered to be vital to the war effort was not conscripted, being available and with the enforced shortage of suitable musicians he became the drummer in a local dance band. Freda was the glamorous singer and within a few short weeks they became inseparable.
Their world changed dramatically after Freda badly damaged her leg fooling about on a bombsite after the latest blitz. Her reluctance and stubbornness to accept treatment, allowed gangrene to set in and her right leg was amputated within three weeks of the injury that, ironically, could have been treated without any long-term effects.
Jim and Freda were married soon after the accident in 1943. Dave followed in early 1945 and, because of Freda's disability and the baby; soon after the war they were given a new council house and a telephone. This was considered a priority, as Jim had to continue working shifts, mostly during the night.
Freda, hated to be seen in a wheelchair and within a few months became a recluse and with the addition of a wartime dark green, blackout roller blind, which was permanently pulled down, obscuring all natural light from the outside world, she lived, worked and slept in the sitting room, basing herself on a chaise longue.
The wireless and telephone, being her only contact with the fast changing world outside somehow turning the disability to her advantage and in less than two years she had sole agency with numerous concert halls, social and youth clubs, initially booking dance bands and trios in the mid 50's, but as Rock and Roll began to take over she booked bigger names from out of town, making her a powerful woman, with a reputation not to accept nonsense from anyone.
The injury still caused her pain and discomfort, which Dave continually explained to the disgruntled musicians, was why she burst into fits of extreme rage whenever any of her artistes let her down.
Despite the disability, with her previous contacts, and her love affair with the telephone, which ensured she was available at any time, never knowing or caring if it was day or night, Freda was always able to put in another act or band if a club was let down. She built up an enviable reputation for reliability and getting promoters out of trouble.
After leaving school, Dave took a job as sales assistant in Horne Brothers, where he was able to buy all his clothes at a discount, or if he was lucky, damaged or soiled stock for next to nothing. He loved his suits and built up a passion to show them off on stage and was not slow in realising that with his mother's contacts he could pick all the best venues to play.
There were so many groups, many who practised for a few days and then realising that they had no chance split up before the end of the week. Dave used his inside information to poach the better players. Freda did a deal with Bill Hitchins, the saxophone player from her old band, owner of the town's biggest music shop, to supply Dave with a pair of Selmer column speakers and amp, and with Bill's contacts; Dave put together a mixed band of musicians of all ages.
Within three weeks, he was the proud singer of a new dance band Music Box that soon became the envy of many of the new groups springing up in every street.
The times they were a changing.
In the late fifties and early sixties most groups played instrumentals, and there was therefore no need for a microphone or public address system. Whenever anyone needed to make an announcement, it was made through a microphone, plugged into the nearest guitarists' amplifier. The demand following the success of the Beatles and other vocal groups had caused a tremendous shortage of amplification, especially portable pa systems, where demand was outstripping the supply. Vox, Selmer and Marshall were all competing with each other to supply bigger, better and more efficient column speakers. Business for every music shop was booming.
Music Box was a new type of band, playing all styles of music including early Rock and Roll; some of the newer hit songs, and instrumentals. As a consequence, they were in demand to play all over Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset and sometimes farther afield, occasionally supporting name-recording groups from as far away as London.
The instrumental tunes gave Dave time to chat up the most likely but unsuspecting, young swooning girl, who made the mistake of standing in front of the stage. He always had the knack of slipping away during the interval or after a show with any girl that he found would accommodate him. In the van, against the nearest wall or, in the summer on the grass, he didn't care - Perhaps his fans liked it that way.
Whenever Music Box returned to a dance hall, his conquest from the previous visit was always waiting at the front of the stage, or if there was a dressing room, she would be in it panting in anticipation.
Being the singer he was the most successful - the girls always fancied the singer first, but if he was otherwise engaged, they looked further afield, at the musicians standing patiently behind him.
Dave became more and more frustrated singing in what was a glorified dance band, he wanted to play the new music with his own group of young musicians, not with the current hotch potch of young and the much older ex-army musicians, who of course could play. In fact compared to the new generation of groups and musicians, they were brilliant, but they lacked the rawness. The fact was that they played too well.
Freda was proud of Dave's band and never failed to keep them busy playing everywhere that wanted a band to churn out the never ending and ever changing hit songs.
Music Box was exactly what their name suggested. They played everything, from a waltz and quickstep to the number one record of the week. Unfortunately, for Dave the audience seldom reacted to the music, perhaps there would be a small round of appreciation after the latest Beatle tune. But certainly not for Pat Boone, Eddie Calvert, Russ Conway or the odd Ruby Murray and Doris Day songs featuring Harry the trumpet player who regularly sang his heart out centre stage, while Dave was in the van or back stage satisfying his adoring female fans.
Following repossession of his drummers' skins, Dave was desperate for a replacement. Once again, he was fortunate. Anthony Tucker, or Tony, as he wanted to be known was less than five foot three, bespectacled and rather fat, but despite his size, and looks he did have a shiny new Sonor drum kit.
The turning point came when Tony joined the band. Although he needed constant reassurance of his abilities, and the opportunities that lay ahead, he had always been reluctant to consider playing professionally in any type of group. Although new to the whole thing, he did warm to his fellow musicians, and it wasn't long before he had the opportunity to demonstrate the talent that he would carry on into the Cheetahs and become his regular party piece. His ego boost always came at the end of the first half with his drum solo in Diamonds, a song recorded by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. In the second half, as he thrashed around the kit playing the whole of the drum solo of Sandy Nelsons' hit, Let there be drums, his inhibitions faded away and for a few minutes he looked and played like a true musician.
Dave saw Tony as the first step in fulfilling his wish of forming his own real group. Tony had his own drums, no ties, knew many of the latest songs and, his image was of no consequence.
The opportunity to go and play in Germany came by chance.
Freda had already received a call from the notorious, Sidney Goldstone's London office asking if there were any local groups keen to go to Germany. She didn't follow it up, feeling that she would lose her commission if any of her groups travelled abroad and out of her control for any length of time.
Freda's highlight of the day was opening the post. She had perfected her daily ritual and loved to open every envelope herself and count her commission, it was always short and she would spend much of the morning telephoning the offending groups and chasing it up.
On the morning of her quarterly hospital check-up, the ambulance arrived early, but because the postman hadn't arrived, she kept it waiting. After twenty minutes, and trying various delaying tactics, she had no choice and gave in, allowing the two ambulance men to hoist her unceremoniously into the ambulance. Her inactivity over the years meant she had gained a great deal of weight, and volunteers to fetch her for her check up, had become very scarce.
As the ambulance turned the corner, the post arrived.
Dave, on his only day off, got out of bed and still feeling the effects of the previous night, shuffled down the stairs, climbed over the mountain of envelopes, then bent down and collected them together. His first daily chore was to pick up and deliver the post to his mother in her office. He methodically flicked through the envelopes until one grabbed his attention. This particular envelope was impressive, it was pale blue, and printed on the back was the name of the sender, Sidney Goldstone International Agent London. Although he knew that his mother wasn't in the house, he still had the feeling that she was able to watch his every move. Nervously he looked around, before slowly slipping it into his pyjama jacket pocket.
Finding it difficult to hold back the excitement and hardly allowing time for the kettle to boil, he made himself a cup of tea and some toast. Then checking that the letter was still safe in his pocket, he carried his breakfast upstairs to the privacy of his bedroom.
He couldn't open the letter quick enough, but he took great care not to tear the envelope knowing that at some point he might have to reseal it and give it to his mother or, show not only the letter but also the impressive envelope to any prospective group members.
Dave sat on the edge of his bed and began to read.
14th October 1965 Sidney Goldstone Entertainments
Dear Mrs Simpson,
Following our recent telephone conversation, I would confirm that we are looking for suitable groups to play in various German clubs.
This is an excellent opportunity for a number of select acts to audition for us in London at the end of this month. When you have had the opportunity of reviewing your acts please call me in order that we can discuss the specific type of groups we are seeking.
Dave read the letter again and again, each time getting more excited, trying to think how he could get an audition to go to Germany. The more he thought about it the more he became confused. He didn't have a group and he needed to be able to get to London.
He sipped at his tea, put it back onto the bedside table and began to think. Looking blankly around his room at the huge posters listing the acts on package tours, publicity photographs of the better groups that his mother had booked, and the black and white photographs of his idols.
He reached out, picked up his cup and sipped at his tea again, but by now, it was cold, and this time he spat it out in disgust. He shook his pillow and settled back on to his bed, but after a few minutes, he started to talk to himself.
''Surely it can't be that difficult to find a name? Mind you if I am going to pull it off and get to Germany………."
His eyes locked onto the ripped and faded posters of the Rocking Cats, the Snakes and the Cougars. He sat staring at them until he suddenly jumped off the bed shouting. ''The Cheetahs… why not?''
He stood and let out a huge sigh of relief before smiling and congratulating himself.
Once he had carefully chosen his clothes he dressed in record time, folded the letter and went downstairs.
After checking that his mother hadn't come back he locked the front door, walked into her office, switched on the light and, still shaking, he dialled London.
A girl answered before the second ring, ''Sidney Goldstone's office."
Dave paused nervously and replied. ''Could I speak… to Mr Goldstone please?''
"Who's calling?" questioned the girl with an air of authority.
For a split second, he hesitated. "It's ……… David Simpson from the Simpson Agency, I'm phoning regarding Mr Goldstone's letter."
There was a long pause; Dave was getting more and more nervous. Could he carry it off or should he put the phone down?
He thought he heard the ambulance pulling up outside and slammed the phone down so hard that the bell inside the phone was still resonating a whole minute later.
He talked loudly to himself. ''What do I do now?"
He nervously walked across to the window, peeled back the edge of the blind. Seeing that it was clear, he walked back to the telephone and, after taking a deep breath, he dialled again. This time his call went directly through to Sidney Goldstone. ''Good morning Mr Goldstone, this is Mr Simpson from the Simpson Agency in Devon, we received your letter this morning regarding suitable acts for Germany.''
Sidney Goldstone was extremely assertive. ''What have you got for me?"
Dave swallowed hard. ''Well, we have one group the… Cheetahs."
''Girl singer or organist?'' asked Sidney Goldstone, and without allowing Dave any time to think of an answer he continued. ''It has to be one or the other.''
Dave didn't really understand why he had been asked that question. He thought for a second and, hesitating slightly, blurted out ''…organist."
The promoter seemed happy with the reply. ''That's fine. Monday week at Charlie Chester's club in Soho, be there about nine in the morning, you'll get confirmation in a few days."
Dave thanked him and as he replaced the receiver he heard the ambulance pull up outside. He jumped up, wiped his forehead and made sure that everything was as it should be. He repositioned the telephone several times, straightened the envelopes, which he had piled precariously high in the usual place, turned off the light, walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Freda couldn't get in the door quick enough. Hardly acknowledging Dave, she wheeled herself past him heading in the direction of her room and the unopened post. She made it abundantly clear that she had not appreciated the disruption to her daily routine, and did not want to be disturbed again by anything except the telephone.
Dave checked himself in the mirror and let himself out of the front door. He couldn't wait to tell Tony the good news.
He walked around to the rear of the brewery and into the yard unnoticed. Tony, wearing faded blue overalls that even for him were several sizes too big, was struggling as he wheeled a fully loaded sack truck precariously towards the waiting lorry. Dave walked up behind him and dug him hard in the ribs, forcing him to lose his balance and tilt the sack truck. With an almighty crash the crates and bottles slid all over the cobbled yard.
The Irish foreman screamed angrily at Tony. "You'll be paying for any breakages, an' get a move on will ya!'' He went strangely quiet but after thinking he continued in an even louder voice. ''Will yer be getting that lorry loaded now?"
Tony turned and scowled at Dave.
Taking no notice, Dave leaned towards the drummer and whispered. "Wait till you hear my news."
Tony wasn't really interested in anything Dave had to say; instead he ignored him and continued to refill the crates with the full bottles, inspecting each one as he put it into the crate.
Dave had no option but to help him, but after snagging his suit trousers, he immediately stopped to check the damage, swearing under his breath as he stretched the material and tried to pull the extended threads back into the fabric.
As soon as the lorry was loaded, Tony stopped and climbed unceremoniously onto a tower made up of empty crates and began to eat the first of five rounds of sandwiches and drink his mid morning mug of tea.
Dave stood awkwardly, preening himself in front of the imaginary mirror, preferring to stand not wanting to risk doing any further damage to his suit.
By now, Dave had lost some of his enthusiasm, but as soon as he noticed Tony starting to relax, it returned. He told the drummer that Sidney Goldstone had phoned him and had asked him to form a group to go and play in Germany. Tony at last showed a little more interest, but only long enough to nod in agreement, between sandwiches, before the yard foreman started bellowing at him again.
Dave slipped out of the yard, briefly looking back at the seemingly disorganised mountains of empty beer crates and wooden kegs and asked himself why Tony hadn't shown more interest. Surely, he wanted to get away from there and do something more meaningful with his life? Did Tony really have a passion to be a professional musician?
Every day, as always, at 8.10am precisely, the post cascaded through the enlarged letterbox onto the lino covered hall floor, Dave rushed immediately to pick it up, if he didn't, he knew that his mother would scream out until it was collected and delivered to her.
For the last few days he had not given her the chance. Recently, he had become deliberately clumsy, dropping the letters, and having to pick them up again and again, but as he did so, he was able to sort through the envelopes looking for the long awaited offer.
On Saturday morning, it arrived, his eyes darting in the direction of the unusual envelope. He picked it up, nervously pushed it into his inside suit jacket pocket and carried the remainder into his ever-impatient mother, who sat waiting, like a bird of prey, eager to get at her victim. She would always snatch them from him and rip the envelopes open, often ripping the cheques or pound notes inside. As soon as he had performed his task, she no longer noticed him.
Dave smiled to himself as he slipped out of the front door, walked quickly to the bus stop and waited for the 8.25am bus into town. Once he was safely installed upstairs on the back seat and had paid the conductor for his ticket, he slowly opened the letter.
Still feeling nervous, he looked around at the other passengers before finally reading it. His face couldn't hide the extreme disappointed at the contents. It was a standard pre-printed letter confirming the date with the time filled in by hand, not such a big deal after all. Dave thought for a few minutes, and looked out of the window at the world outside, wondering what Germany was going to be like when he was a professional singer with his own group. He decided that no one else needed to see this one; it was the first letter that was the most important.
Dave had worked in the same men's outfitters in the High Street, since leaving school, and now that he was regarded as the assistant manager, his weekly wage had risen slowly to £19/15/6 before deductions. He knew he was underpaid and for several years he had dreams of becoming the first person from the area to have a hit record.
As soon as his lunch break came, he raced off down the hill to Bill Hitchin's shop to continue with the realisation of that dream. Saturday was the day when every musician, made their weekly pilgrimage to the music shop to try out the latest guitar or amplifier, repeatedly playing their favourite, well-practised licks.
Bill was making a fortune; selling a cheap guitar to a beginner, for less than eight pounds and buying it back, a few weeks later for three, often reselling it again the same day for another eight pounds. Guitars changed hands almost weekly and he never complained even when the weekly H.P. payments were not kept up, and the odd instrument was repossessed, because he knew that he could sell it again and again.
Dave listened patiently to all the would be guitarists, all playing different tunes and styles at different volumes, until he heard a note perfect instrumental being played by a young curly haired rocker in the corner. Slowly he pushed his way through the small crowded shop until he was standing almost on top of the guitarist. He casually looked down at his wristwatch, not wanting to be seen to be in a hurry, and waited until the guitarist finished playing. He acknowledged him and showed his appreciation of the player. "Who do you play with?'' Dave asked casually.
The guitarist looked up and shyly replied. "No one at the moment, I've only been in town for a few days," he lied.
Dave couldn't believe his luck. He sensed that his lunch hour was nearly over, and again looked at his watch. "Listen, I'm forming a new group to go to Germany. Are you interested?"
The guitarist although speechless was able to acknowledge the question, responding with a frenzied nod of his head.
The singer looked at his watch for the third time. "I have to rush, but can you meet me in the coffee bar next door at half five tonight?" The guitarist gave a wide smile and continued to nod excitedly.
Dave now satisfied with his success, pushed his way through the massed musicians and rushed back up the hill to work.
Most of the working groups would visit Bill's late on a Saturday afternoon to buy anything that they needed that night or occasionally, or if they had a very special engagement, to rent an amplifier or PA system or just to keep up to date with any news. Dave was no exception and usually after finishing work at the shop he would meet the rest of Music Box at the coffee bar or in the music shop.
Dave having reached an understanding with his shop manager changed into his travelling suit just before a quarter past five, and as soon as the front shop door was locked, he was out of the back door, into the van, and driving down the hill.
He parked and locked the van, composed himself and slowly walked into the coffee bar, up to the counter, bought himself a coffee and two chocolate biscuits, looked around until he spotted the guitarist, and motioned to him to ask if he wanted a coffee. The guitarist shook his head; Dave paid, and walked over to join him still trying to hide his desperation. "My name's Dave Simpson."
"Jimmy Harris." The guitarist reached out and shook Dave's hand.
Dave then proceeded to tell Jimmy that although he was currently singing with another group, he had been approached to form a new group to go to Germany. Dave took out the letter from his inside pocket and slid it to Jimmy under the table.
Jimmy began to read the letter and when he finished it, his face lit up. Could this be the chance he was waiting for?
Jimmy didn't know for sure if the person sitting next to him, who was no more than a stranger, was asking him to join his group. But before Dave had the opportunity to say another word, Jimmy, having decided to tell the truth blurted out his response. "I've moved here to find a group, I'm only living in a bed sit," and without stopping to take a breath he continued, "so I can go whenever you want me to."
With that, the rest of Music Box arrived, Dave reached across the table grabbed the letter, folded it carefully and slid it into his pocket. He took Jimmy's address shook his hand and left.
Jimmy sat enviously watching as the spotless white Commer van pulled effortlessly away and after carefully counting the change in his pocket he treated himself to a celebratory coffee.
Although the café was buzzing Jimmy was oblivious to the noise around him and music blasting out from the jukebox. He sat alone at the table and dreamt for a few minutes, and subconsciously sipped at the coffee before he got up, walked out into the cold dark evening, and took the train to Torquay.
As he walked briskly along the sea front towards the freezing and unwelcoming rooms he shared with his father he tried to imagine what it would be like to play in a group.
That night, throughout the show, Dave had his mind on other things. Which songs should they learn for the audition? Could he put a new group together in time? And would they be good enough? Time was running out, he still needed a bass player and an organist. He guessed that they would only need to play two or three songs at the audition - Not a problem.
Monday lunchtime couldn't come quick enough. Dave returned to Bill's shop where he began to mentally shortlist contenders from amongst dozens of hand-written advertisements placed by budding musicians, or groups, trying to find musicians. Following a lengthy period of deliberation, he decided to contact the bass player of the only typed advertisement, which had been pinned in the top right hand corner of the board.
Ex-professional bass player, with own equipment,
seeks professional group. Available immediately.
Contact Adrian Palmer 43 Addison Street.
Adrian had really been around, playing all over England in an R and B group. Dave had seen him play many times, but had never spoken to him. Adrian looked the part and Dave knew that he was more than capable. Adrian was cool. He had moulded his stage presence on Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones and he, like Bill, always stood on the side of the stage, hardly moving all night. He had already tasted success, his group; the Snakes played in the finals of the Oxfam competition in London in 1963, judged by two members of the Beatles. They didn't win, and with continual management problems, the group soon split up. Reluctantly, after nearly two years as a professional musician and unusually, having already paid for his equipment, Adrian reluctantly returned home to work in an office, while he waited for the right opportunity to come along.
That evening, Dave, drove through the same council estate where Tony lived, and, was soon knocking on Adrian Palmer's front door.
The door opened and Dave stood back shocked, as the young musician, in his early twenties stood looking down at him. Now almost unrecognisable, with extremely long dark brown hair and a tiny well-sculptured moustache and beard, Adrian looked more like a beatnik than a musician.
Dave stood outside in the semi darkness and introduced himself while Adrian remained on the doorstep, three steps above him. With the front door pulled closely behind him, the glazed panel shed just enough light for him to read the contents of the letter. While he slowly read and studied every word of the letter, Dave still feeling very disappointed, took a closer look at his chosen bass player. The very long matted greasy hair masked his good looks, and Dave could see, that under the hair, his clear, unmarked, olive skin, gave him the look of a very handsome Italian.
When Adrian finished reading the letter, he folded it neatly, put it back into the envelope, and passed it back to the singer. Dave carefully slid the letter into his inside pocket and waited apprehensively while Adrian looked over Dave's head and out into the darkness. He hesitated for a moment, nodded and then smiled.
"Yeah man, I'll give it a whirl, but if the other players aren't up to it, we will change them, won't we?"
Dave, although relieved, was surprised at the response and had to think hard before responding to the request. His lips tightened, and knowing that he had no option, finally nodded his agreement, and replied in the only way he could.
"That shouldn't be a problem, but let's get the audition over with before we even think about that."
Dave was surprised to hear himself talking in that way, but Adrian, having already been a pro, must have something, and Dave needed him desperately. Adrian seemed happy with Dave's response and agreed to be at the first rehearsal. As Dave walked down the garden path Adrian shouted after him. "Man, that's one hell of a van."
To be continued...
Archived comments for Ticket to Ride
ian2 on 2004-03-13 04:44:13
Re: Ticket to Ride
I quite liked this, particularly the storyline and concept. And of course you have a ready-made audience of old gits like me who lived thru those times. All the best with it, and I shall be interested to see the outcome.
Claire on 2004-03-14 14:54:12
Re: Ticket to Ride
This is very long. It has taken me three attempts to finish reading this. The computer screen kills my eyes. Have you considered submitting one chapter at a time - it might get more hits as well. This is a good read. More readers will probably look at it if it were shorter sections. I've noticed that on this site.
Any way, interesting read. Before my time, but I still know bits and pieces about it. Some bits I found amusing, others I thought 'it must have been great to be able to do that.' Looking forward to the next part.