City Sound (Issue 17.09.92 - 23.09.92)
CALENDAR (Crouch End)
FRI - Sam’s £1 Pint Night, Little Storm
I did not arrive expecting to love them, or even to like them, really. As long as the music provided enough noise to mark the end of the week, and as long as I returned home within the swirling brilliance of intoxication, I’d consider the night a success. We’d arrived late, Claire and me, because she spent an hour on the telephone and I’d waited.
We caught the band during an extended pause between songs, due to a broken guitar string. The crowd murmured over the faint buzz of the amps, and we wove our way from the door to the bar. Claire pulled a tenner from her front pocket. “What am I getting you?”
“Vodka tonic, if you would.”
“Of course.” Her eyes ticked upwards, but she turned to order. Let her get the cheap pint, if she wanted it.
I stood up on my toes to see past a big head blocking my sight of the stage. The singer had his back turned, and he watched the guitarist on the right re-tune. Their three bandmates attempted to look cool with nothing to do, and the drum kit took up most of the tiny stage.
Turning back to the mic, he let a smile cross his sandpapery jaw. Already I appreciated the difference, compared with the ordinary breed of frontman at Sam’s. Too many chose to stay aloof or even sullen, when all I really wanted was a good time. This one looked like he might be a good time.
“Now, since we’ve that sorted,” he said in a low, tobacco-tinted voice. “What do you reckon? Maybe take the next one, Thom?”
The guitarist shook his head, failing to disguise his discomfort with a look of impatience. They needed to get on with it.
“Go on, give us just the one.”
Glaring now, Thom did not budge. People began to shift their attention to each other and some moved away from the stage for another round. From behind the bar, I heard a sigh. A scowling but pretty blonde held our two glasses, and she kept her eyes on the band while Claire paid.
“See, my brother wrote a new song for our lovely barmaid here.” He extended one long finger our direction. “And doll, I’ve been singing about you all night, but . . . ” The blonde muttered under her breath and he shrugged. “This one’s for you, Mia.”
Claire snorted. “God, the one looks like he’d rather die.” She flicked her wrist towards the singer. “And the other’s a bit barmy. No wonder we’ve not heard of them.”
Taking a sip of my drink, I watched him wrap both hands around the microphone. The smile gave way to concentration. “I don’t know,” I said over the rolling introduction, “I think they’re kind of . . . ”
While I searched for the right words, he began to sing. The crowd quieted, and for a moment, I forgot about her and the drink. Standing at the edge of the sound, where the volume straddled the line of excess, I wondered how they’d ever escaped my attention. With a bluesy rumble straight from his ribs, his voice sounded at once familiar and remarkable. Surprising. He straightened his wide shoulders and let one hand drop to his side.
“Come on, oh, you have to know . . . ” He tucked a piece of hair away from his inky eyelashes. “Come on, come be my secret show . . . ”
“They’re kind of what?” Claire said, startling me. She settled onto an open stool and leaned against the bar.
“They’re amazing.” I took a step away from her. “Excuse me.”
Through the crowd I moved closer to the stage, feeling the pressure in the gauziest part of my chest evaporate. He carried himself with a stationary bravado, as though he knew his voice did not require any other posturing. The song, so big and so heart-sweltering, made it easy to forget what had come before. When I watched them play as though no trouble had occurred, I needed to know him. I needed to know from where these songs came.
Not until the end did I give more attention to his brother. Though he kept his hair short and his face clean-shaven, no one would ever doubt their relation. They had the same hands, square jaws, and if Thom stood up as straight, maybe an equivalent height. He stared at the back of the room as they launched into the next number, and I stood on his side of the stage.
The rhythm guitarist and the bassist played on the opposite corner and shared little else. Where one had blond fuzz, cropped to mask what did not remain, the other played under a sweaty mess of dark curls and looked like the skinny kid they’d let in on account of needing a bass. Beneath a hurricane of black hair, the drummer banged away with his massive, tattoo-sleeved arms. He might have upstaged any other frontman, which felt funny to say about a drummer, however accurate.
They played three more songs after the first I’d heard and seemed to win back their audience a bit more with each one. The singer flashed one last smile. “We’re Little Storm. Tell your mates.”
Claire’s bony elbow pressed into my arm. “Jesus, Maryjane. Did you really think they were that good?”
“Didn’t you?” I continued to watch them. The drummer hung back and began dismantling his kit while the others moved towards the cases left in the corner, near one of the emergency exits. The bassist had his instrument packed right away and went back to help with the drums. They all looked somewhat relieved to be finished.
“Sure, I guess they’re good for a band with a crap name, but it’s not like I had anything else happening tonight,” Claire said. “I don’t know if — You’re not even listening to me.”
“No, I’m not.” I watched the other guitarist intercept the singer, the shadow between two lights covering their faces while they spoke. Thom knelt at his guitar case, snapped it shut and then stood. He started to move back towards the stage when his brother stopped him. After swallowing half my neglected drink, I said to Claire, “I need to talk to them.”
“I don’t see any girls queueing.” She tipped back her glass and sucked out the last of the liquid. Her eyes closed for a moment. She’d ordered again in my absence. On any other night, I might have come back at her with a remark, or at least rolled my eyes, but I kept moving.
The other guitarist gave me a polite nod as he stepped back onto the stage. He took down the mic stand and said something about the amps to the drummer. The singer stood with his back turned, and just as I opened my mouth, Thom said to him, “Would you come off it? If I’d wanted to sing, I would’ve fucking said so.”
His eyes moved to me, and his brother spun around to see who had paused their conversation. The singer’s expression softened. “Hello,” he managed before Thom cut him off.
“What? Did you need something?” His face did not change.
“I . . . I’m sorry. No. Great gig, that’s all.” My face burned. I took two steps back, flattened my lips and got away before anyone said more. Couldn’t I have waited until they stopped talking? Could I have thought it through any less? I had to do this a different way.
Behind me, I heard the singer say, “Brilliant. Don’t encourage people to like us or anything.”
Claire kept her eyes on a man wearing an Arsenal shirt when I returned. He looked familiar, but then, I didn’t picture any footballers having enough sense of irony to frequent such a dive. “Did you want to have another or were you ready? I’m fine either way,” she said.
“Yeah. Okay. Another drink.” My breathing began to steady when I saw Thom go out the side door. Anymore, I didn’t know why Claire and I bothered to go out together. We shared a flat; we didn’t hurt for time. Claire didn’t want to leave yet, but I doubted it had anything to do with me.
I wanted to speak with Mia. She appeared pleased when I returned to the bar, providing an escape from a near-toothless man who’d just asked for her number. Pulling back her shirt to reveal less, she obliged a smile. “Another vodka tonic?” Her eyes flitted to the other side of the room where the band hauled their equipment into the alleyway.
“You’ve got a good memory.”
“I try.” Her smile turned more genuine. She reached for a glass and the ice scoop.
“Just the one?”
Instead of following me, Claire had decided to chat up Mr. Arsenal. She laughed at something he said. “Just the one, yes.”
“Did you enjoy the band?” She held the bottle above my glass, as though only the correct answer would decide her next move.
A strange little flutter rose in my chest and I exhaled. “They’re near-perfect.”
Mia shook her head, then poured a double I’d not requested. “Oh, they’re near it, you’re right about that.”
“I need to know one thing.”
“Yeah?” She finished off the drink with a lime.
“Tell me the singer’s name.”
We both turned our attention back to the door. Now wearing a battered brown jacket and holding a cigarette, he stood with the drummer and punctuated his words with a wave of his hand.
“His name is Ian Donovan, and he and his brother say they’re the future of rock n roll.”
(Feeling masochistic. Above written by Sara Habein. Copyright reserved, blah, blah, blah, don't be a jerk. Etc.)