I’ve been coming back to the Guitar Boogie Bar for some time now – and it’s an interesting thing: it’s never in the same place twice.
Somewhere near where I found it, always somewhere a little out of the way, always when I really feel like I need a break.
Of course, given that the folk who perform there are literally out of this world, hey, what’s a little spatial uncertainty to go with the temporal?
Tonight was pretty special, though. They’d advertised it as only they knew how – strange little stickers popping up where I regularly work; cryptic texts on my phone from “Number Unknown” – and it was shaping to be really memorable.
I mean, the 5DJ Concert? Really? Half the 27s Club, and then two more legends to boot?
I squinted up at the lintel to make sure, and there it was: a small sign with a silhouetted axeman bending over what had to be Strat, with “GBB” stencilled next to it. Inevitably it was raining, just like the first time I’d come, so I shook off the coat a bit before hanging it, and stood near the door, adjusting to the light.
Pretty full already, so I was glad I’d come early. I hurried up to the bar, got my regular Rory’s Malt and nuts, and headed back to my usual table, tucked away at an angle to the stage. I took a good sip, and rolled that rich brew round my mouth, and filled up on some nuts. I took a look around, then, to see the usual crowd, only more so. Elderly folk, more women than usual; grey hair worn pretty long all round; jeans and T-shirts the norm. There was a scattering of younger faces around, more excited, having to get “Shhed!” from time to time when they got a bit loud – and probably by their parents.
It filled up pretty fast from then, and I had a few table friends to share the experience with. One was my friend from the first time: “Chuck. Just Chuck” he’d said with a small smile, and I’d never asked for more. We’d talked a few times over beers since then, with that impossible music over (No-one talks during the Legends performances! No-one!!), and hit it off pretty well. Shared musical interests, into good hard SF, LoTR, Star Trek/Star Wars – and, of course, good beer. We compared notes on Star Wars VII, agreed that the franchise looked like it might succeed, that SF was just getting better, even if fantasy had taken a knock with Terry Pratchett’s death.
Then the fussing around with the mikes and the tuning finished, the house lights went down – and there she was, J Number 1*. Small, kaftan-clad, a bush of curly grey hair around a face with round-rimmed glasses, smiling and nodding behind the mike. One acoustic guitar with her: plump hairy guy, owlish bearded face, also long curly grey hair. J Number 5, then – bookending the group.
She started all by herself, in that distinctive gravelly voice, with the guitar only coming in round about the third line.
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz…”
The crowd went crazy, whooping and clapping, till she smilingly waved them to be quiet, and went on. Then, just when you’d think she’d finished, after a little guitar break:
“Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me an iPhone 6S
My friends all have 6s, I have to impress
I won’t really use it, I have to confess
But Lord, won’t you buy me, an iPhone 6S”
There was some laughter round the mike, and the guitar had to go round again, and then:
“Oh Lord, won’t you get me” – a pause – “an iPad Air 3 [more giggling]
I know it ain’t out yet, but do this for me
I swear I won’t tell, our secret, it’ll be
So Lord, won’t you get me, an iPad Air 3….”
Prolonged strumming on the final chord, and she bowed with a “Thank you!”, and she swished away. Damn! Forty-five odd years later, and she’d added two more verses! No slouches, these Js – despite being, for what could be termed more delicately, but I don’t know how – dead.
At least, as far as we knew, because these folk looked like they’d aged right along with us, and played like it too.
And here he was, J Number 2, slim, black, wispily bearded, with a short grey Afro with a bandana round it, slipping in behind the mike, 12-string in hand. “Thought you cats might like something I did with Buddy and Billy back in the Gypsys days, but – different, you know what I’m saying?”.
With that he plucked a few chords, just like he did way back with “Hear My Train A’Comin'”, and was into
“Machine gun – Machine gun
Tearing my body all apart…”
in a slow bluesy style, with an unnoticed bass coming in behind. J4 it was, doing what his bandmate used to. Oh, it was sublime: quietly melodic, melancholy, short solo in the middle, with sudden strumming on muted strings for the machine gun. He was hunched over that 12-string most of the time, right up till then final, stretched notes. Then he looked up and smiled, and said “Thank you” quietly. Standing ovation time, with the young folk, being persuaded not to take cellphone pics by us old types.
I took a break to catch up on some beer then, and shake my head at Chuck, who just smiled.
J No 3 was tuning up then, sitting behind the mike, all hair and beard and belly. Looked like he might do a quiet one – but no, Js Nos 2 and 5 were backing him up, with the house drummer, and suddenly we were into a rollicking guitar intro, and:
“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel…”,
from J3, his hoarse baritone commanding the room. I noticed the bassist around then, and damn if he didn’t look familiar from the Clapton Rainbow Concert album. Rick…Rick…then his name went out the window as J3 stood and started rapping with the beat, with something that sounded like William Burroughs, and probably was.
They rounded it up after fifteen or so minutes, with J3 finishing with a long-drawn-out
“Let it rollllllll…alll ni-i-i-ght lo-o-o-ong – yeah, baby!!”,
and a flurry of guitar work from J2.
Some more beer work, and some peanuts, and there was J4 – sitting with an acoustic, dressed just like us, balder, greyer, but still with the little round spec. And yes, he did look uncannily like me, and even smiled and nodded over at our table. I was just beginning to feel uncomfortable, as the folk turned and stared, when he said: “I see we have Richard Gere in the house – welcome, Richard!”, with a little bow. The house broke up with that, and I had to laugh as Chuck clapped me on the back.
He was sublime: he started, with his soft Liverpudlian drawl, with “The way things are right now, I see I’m going to have to do this one again…” – and launched straight in.
“Two, one two three four
Ev’rybody’s talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m. “
A pregnant pause, then:
“All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance…”
Oh, he was drowned out pretty much immediately, as the crowd leaped to its feet – a bit creakily in some cases – and roared it out with him. He kept on going, with that roaring chorus, and I swear he extemporised about five new verses, like this one:
“Ev’rybody’s talking about
Reggae, hip-hop, Bill Clinton, Hillary
Beyonce and J-Lo…”
We finally let him go when his voice was starting to croak and his hands were trembling. Silence followed, then the buzz broke out. I saw some of the younger set break out their cellphones, then, and was amused to see that they were bemused to see they had no signal. Somehow that always happened, if you tried to discuss The Legends.
J5 was up next , also sitting, with an acoustic guitar. He beamed out at us like a round, hairy guru, and said “We need to get a bit quiet, maybe?” The Sugaree that followed was as sublime as I’ve ever heard it – and the drawn out final
“Just don’t tell them, that you kno-o-o-o-ow – me-e-e-e?”
Dead quiet, then a roar of approval, and we applauded him off the floor. The 5DJs had all done their thing, but there was more to come. They did duets, they did ensembles, they did more solos – and they ended with a grand assembly that included our Irish Friend and the newly-arrived gaunt spiky-haired fellow, doing “All You Need is Love”. For real – and for about thirty minutes. “Man”, I shouted at Chuck at one point, “I’m in heaven!” He smiled as he always did, and went back to clapping the rhythm.
That’s when the realisation came to me that things may have changed.
That I’m dead, too. And I’m OK with that.
*5 Dead Js: Janice, Jimi, Jim, John and Jerry. And if you say “Who?” to any one of them, go away B-)
and here’s a link to a virtual concert B-)