had a sort-of day-of-routine that I followed
on show days. I showered and shaved at the hotel, then I walked ‘round to the
sound check at the theatre (or took a taxi, if we were staying more than twenty
minutes away). Dinner followed the sound check, and then there was a period of
waiting around to perform—which, for me, usually involved a ciggie or two out
back with Tejo, a packet of M&M’s for that all-important additional sugar
boost, a mug of coffee, some conversations on Instagram, and a personal tour of
I tried not to vary the routine
too much. I wasn’t
superstitious. Oh all right, maybe I was.
I’d taken it easy during the
sound check. Playing the guitar wasn’t a problem. But singing was absolute
torture, so I’d decided to preserve my voice and I’d got Bob to stand in for me
while Tejo tested my mic levels.
An empty theatre before a show
always gives me a sense of something privileged and exclusive. I used to feel
the same way when I was at sea and wandering around the Sapphire at two
in the morning, when all the passengers were asleep and the decks were
The Pantheon was gorgeous inside
and its predominant colour—like the colour in a lot of those old nineteenth century
theatres—was red. Rich red upholstery on the seats, flocked red wallpaper, a
decorative scarlet curtain with gold tassels and fringes.
I hiked up the stairs to the gods
and stood on my own at the very top, gazing down the steep pitch to the stage,
where all our instruments had been set up by Kato, our equipment manager. Kato
was an interesting addition to the crew—a female in a role that had always been
traditionally male. She had short blonde hair and large teeth and she was
gregariously friendly when she wasn’t insulting me.
Old English music halls were
designed by architects who weren’t all that worried about health and safety.
Their main concern was the audience’s sight line, and because of that, the
railings at the bottom front of the balcony were usually less than three feet
I was standing in Row A, acutely
aware that all that was between me and a drop of about thirty feet into the
stalls was that slim brass rail that didn’t even reach my waist. Suddenly, I had
the creepiest feeling that I was being watched.
And along with that came a sudden
and dramatic paralytic fear. I’m not afraid of heights, but Mitch is. And I
remember him explaining to me that his wasn’t so much the fear of being so high
up, as it was the fear of not being able to control himself if he was suddenly
seized by an irrational desire to jump.
It was exactly that fear I was
experiencing. I was terrified to move. Someone was behind me. I could feel their
eyes burning into my back. And what overtook my imagination was my only means
of escape—leaping over that railing.
It was, of course, utterly
ridiculous. I shoved my phone into my jeans pocket and grabbed hold of the
brass rail with both hands and gripped it, tight, focusing my attention on my
Strat, propped up on its stand on the stage below.
I listened to my pounding heart
and my breathing and the silence all around me. Whoever was behind me wasn’t making a sound. And then…it
was over. They left. I didn’t hear them, didn’t see them…but I sensed it.
I let go of the railing and
backed up the stairs, gripping the arms of the seats. At the top, when I felt
safe, I turned around. And I saw them: two grotesques, fixed to the back wall,
laughing at me.
At first glance you’d have thought they were
cherubs, fashioned out of white marble, the sort of thing you’d find decorating
a chapel. But no, these were not in the least cherubic. In fact they reminded
me of those drama masks, Comedy and Tragedy. Which was probably what they were
intended to portray.
But both of them had completely
twisted faces and they frightened the life out of me.
Perhaps it was just my state of
Perhaps it was just the Benylin.
But I had the creepiest feeling
they weren’t the
only ones who’d been in the balcony with me just then.
Our caterers were another luxury
provided by my mother, who had less-than-enthusiastic recollections of tours,
back in the day, fuelled by a never-ending menu of cold chicken sandwiches.
Roadworks wasn’t a big outfit,
but the two ladies who ran it—Mary and Janice—were event veterans. And they’d
stepped in at the last minute when our original firm, Up the Hill, had to pull
out of the tour due to a family emergency.
Mary and Janice drove their own
truck and fitted everything into flight cases, which they rolled on and off at
each of our venues. They came complete with their own portable chairs and
tables and tablecloths, disposable stuff—napkins, tin foil, plastic wrap, paper
towels—and compostables—our meals were all served on fabulous bamboo plates
with matching knives, forks and spoons which were completely recyclable.
They were dab hands at doing the
local scout for fresh food and then getting everything set up and cooked in
time to feed our little entourage—and whoever else we might have had dropping
in as special guests.
They served dinner backstage after
our sound check on show nights, using whatever empty space could accommodate
us. They provided handwritten menus and cuisine lovingly prepared with fresh
ingredients from local markets.
That night, we had a crab starter,
goat cheese ravioli and a raw spinach salad with honey Dijon dressing. And to
finish, raspberry and almond tarts and a little bowls of custard topped with
Devon cream and blueberries.
“You all right?” Rolly asked, as
I helped myself to the ravioli.
“I’ve been better,” I replied.
My experience in the theatre had
rattled me. I suppose it showed.
“Cheer up,” Rolly said, adding an
extra serving of ravioli to his plate. “We’ve got a sellout crowd tonight.”
“We’ve got a sellout crowd every
night,” I said, opting for two bowls of spinach salad to make sure I was
staving off tour scurvy.
It wasn’t until I was deciding
between the raspberry and almond tart and the custard with Devon cream and
blueberries, that my mother decided to tell me about the anonymous message
someone had left on her phone that afternoon.
“On your mobile?” I said.
“On the phone in my hotel room,”
she replied. “While I was out shopping.”
“What did they say?”
“They informed me that we were
lucky not to have been killed by the gargoyle. Had a little rant about the
state of the country. And told me to watch out.”
“Sorry?” I said. “You’ve received
“I suppose you might call it
that,” my mother replied, helping herself to the custard and blueberries. “It
might just have been a nutter, blowing off steam. I haven’t deleted it. Come
back to my room after the show and have a listen.”
I don’t really get nervous before
a performance. I used to, but I’ve done it so often now, especially at the Blue
Devil, that it’s second nature to me. What I do get is a little adrenaline kick
just before I go on. And I don’t mind admitting that I love the attention, the
applause, the feeling of connecting with an audience that I know has come
specifically to see us. I love their affection. I love the feeling I get
knowing that they want to hear us—me—play. I suppose they feed my sense of
accomplishment and my ego. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I crave their
validation. But I grew up in the spotlight. And because I had well-known
musical parents, I was always going to be put under the microscope and comparisons
were always going to be made.
I gave up trying to compete with
their legacy a long time ago.
The Figs weren’t—and never have been—a
high-tech act. No lasers or Live and Let Die pyros, no huge screen up the rear with rolling cameras on tracks in
the pit, no complex SFX and multi-level stages.
No multiple trucks filled with
rigs and hundreds of rolling flight cases, either. We had a single van for all
our equipment and it was driven by Kato, who also took care of moving our gear
on and offstage and setting it all up.
Our stage was decorated simply,
with a series of long curtains suspended from rods, and for lighting we used
the permanent spots supplied by the venue, plus a couple of extras that we’d brought along to enhance
the mood during some of our songs. We had wedgies in front of us and amps in
the back and Tejo with his trusty mixing board to make us sound excellent.
I’d like to say that night’s show
went well and without incident. But that wouldn’t be true.
Our gigs usually ran to about two
and a half hours. Eight tunes in the first set list, a thirty minute interval,
then another nine tunes and the two encores. Figgis Green’s songs have never
been long, drawn-out affairs. Quick and to the point for maximum radio play,
relaxed a little for live shows. And we were sticking to the familiar versions
of nearly everything.
We’d come back from our break and
had played through the first three songs, “Viaggio Italiano” (which was a jaunty
tale based on a nightmare vacation my dad’s sister had taken with her husband
in the 1970s, with rollicking riffs from the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian
Symphony thrown in for good measure); “Jay-Jay,” which was a lazy,
slow shuffle jazz piece that my dad had composed about me (and which was,
secretly, my favourite tune in the show); and “Four Strong Winds,” the Ian and
Sylvia classic where I sang the lead vocal and mum joined me on the chorus.
Mum has always loved the
loneliness and futility in the lyrics describing the end of a love affair—and
never been to Alberta, she believes wholeheartedly in Ian Tyson’s claim that
the weather’s good there in the fall. (I have been to Northern Alberta and I can tell you, reliably and without any
word of a lie, that it’s very fucking cold in the middle of February, never mind the fall.)
We’d finished “Four Strong Winds”
and I was beginning to swelter under the lights. I think I may have had Helix
Aspersa Muller dripping off my face and onto my guitar. I really hoped
Janice and Mary weren’t planning on serving escargot anytime soon. I hated to
think I might be chowing down on one of my humanely-farmed certified organic
facial product’s cousins.
We started “The Fog’s Lament,”
which my parents had always claimed was an old English folk song, but in fact
they’d made the whole thing up, cleverly creating lyrics that sounded like
something a fair damsel stuck in a medieval turret would have dreamed about as
she waited to be rescued by a lusty knight.
And, as I waited for a break in
my fingering so I could wipe the sweat out of my eyes, there was a commotion
down in the front row.
Our audiences were fond of
getting up to dance during our more energetic songs, and “The Fog’s Lament” was very
definitely one of those.
You can’t really make out a lot
from the stage when the spots are on—they essentially blind you. You can see
the general shapes of people but you can’t really single out their faces. But
we all saw someone keeling over and not moving.
We stopped the show and waited
while the person was brought ‘round and then helped up and taken out to the
foyer by a couple of guys from Security. It looked like a woman, and, while she
was able to walk, she was very unsteady on her feet.
After the show, in the foyer, we
signed things and chatted and glad-handed and posed for pictures, but nobody
had any news about the woman, whether she’d been able to leave on her own or had
been taken to the hospital.
Afterwards, still buzzing and not
nearly tired enough to sleep, we all walked back to the hotel and gathered in
my mother’s room
to listen to her message.
“Well, hello, Mandy.”
The voice was female.
“About that gargoyle. Weren’t you
the lucky ones, eh? You could have been killed. Or Jason.”
She wasn’t wrong.
“Accident waiting to happen, if
you ask me. Shoddy workmanship. Bloody foreigners coming over here, taking all
our jobs, lowering the standards.”
There was a pause.
“Or maybe it was deliberate. There’s a thought, eh? The perfect murder.
You never know, do you? You’d best watch out.”
I studied the phone. It had a
little screen in it and lots of buttons you could press to see a record of who
rang you and who left messages. The sort of phone that often confounded my
mother, who grew up and lived a good portion of her life in an era when you
just lifted the receiver when you heard the double-ring and you said hello and
that was that.
I pressed the buttons and read
the information. Mum had only received the one call. In fact, that was the only
call she’d got all
day—because anyone who knew my mother personally knew the best way to reach her
was on her mobile.
The little screen on the phone
didn’t reveal the number of the caller and it didn’t provide a name.
In the old days, hotels had
switchboards and operators. These days it’s all conference bridging and VOIP,
virtual receptionists and in-room checkout.
“Don’t you think we should report
this to the police?” Beth asked, doubtfully.
“Not worth their time,” mum
replied. “I’m not even sure it’s a crime. A crank call, yes. But it’s not
really a threat, is it?”
“It’s an implied threat,” I said.
“It’s not,” mum said. “I think we
can safely delete the message and say goodnight.”
I stopped her from erasing it
until I’d played it again and recorded it on my phone.
Just in case.