Tuesday 18 October 2011

Great Expectations

Alan Cadman

Dark Chocolate Surprise

From a young age Tommy knew where his future lay. He wanted to be a musician; not just any old musician, but Tommy Baddams . . . the rock star.
                With his black, shoulder length, curly hair and trade mark wrap-around shades, at least he always looked the part. He loaded the last of the guitars into the converted campervan and slammed the back doors shut. The dream he chased, with a passion, had not worked out as he expected it to.               
                ‘Do you know what your ex missus is up to these days, Tommy?’ asked Robbie Green, the lead guitarist and singer of the band.
                Tommy rubbed his chin. ‘The last I heard, she was dating a bank manager.’
                ‘It makes a massive change then,’ Robbie said, ‘from being married to a roadie for three middle-aged rockers.’
                Tommy laughed, patted his pockets and searched for the keys to the van, as they prepared to set off for their next gig.
                Ben Jones checked through his collection of drumsticks, before joining in the conversation. ‘How’s your young lad?’ 
                Tommy scratched his head. ‘I haven’t seen him for about eight years. He must be twenty-two now.’
                He clambered into the driving seat and looked over his shoulder towards Scott. ‘Before you ask, your bass is safely packed away in its flight case.’
                Scott yawned and settled down in the back. ‘Where are we playing tonight?’
                ‘Some club at the back end of Wolverhampton, looks like a tricky place to find, the club I mean not the city. I’m glad I’ve got a sat-nav these days.’
                ‘Who’s the support?’
                ‘Whoever the agent wants it to be.’ Tommy pulled a face. ‘We’re not big enough to choose these days, are we?’ He checked his dashboard gadget. ‘It’s about a hundred and fifty miles north from here. Let’s hit the road.’       
                ‘Your ex comes from that neck of the woods, doesn’t she?’ asked Robbie, who sat in the front seat beside him. Tommy nodded, but without any enthusiasm.
                ‘Are you going to pay her a visit then? You know, talk about all the good times you had together?’ Robbie ducked. He expected a verbal lashing and covered his ears with his hands.            Tommy had other things on his mind. Even at the age of fifty, he still thought he had a chance to make his debut in the jobbing band. He knew he could do better than just being a roadie. ‘I’m still convinced,’ he said to Robbie, ‘It would work as a four piece.’
                Robbie rolled his eyes. ‘We’re a power trio and always will be.’ He laughed and nudged Tommy in the ribs, which caused the van to swerve a little. ‘Go and look it up on Google if you’ve forgotten what it means, old man.’       
                ‘Come on, let me play rhythm guitar and sing backing vocals. I know the set-list inside out. After all, it’s me that tapes it to the stage every time there’s a booking.’
                Robbie looked out of the window; housing estates and out of town shopping centres soon evolved into open farmland. ‘You’ve been harping on about this for years. You’re already brilliant at what you do.’ He tried to reason with Tommy. ‘You’re invaluable to us. Apart from other things, you load and unload the van, drive us everywhere, set everything up on stage, and,’ Robbie flashed a cheeky grin, ‘before we knew the error of our wicked ways, you were our main supplier of, booze, coke and condoms.’
                ‘The sound check went well, didn’t it?’ Tommy shouted to Robbie, who jumped off the stage.
                ‘Yeah, it did,’ he answered, over his shoulder. ‘Did you notice that curry house outside?’ He glanced at his watch. ‘We’ve got some time to kill. See you over there.’
                Tommy nodded, picked up a light blue Fender from its stand and twisted it around in his hands. He could never work out why Robbie chose one of those over a standard Gibson Les Paul; his own favourite.
                The bar area, of the club, was getting crowded with early arrivals, who were hanging around in groups, chatting about the night’s forthcoming entertainment. After checking the tuning of Robbie’s guitar, Tommy always played the riff, as a kind of ritual, from the classic Deep Purple song, Smoke on the Water.
                A barrage of loud feedback screeched, as he held the guitar too close to one of the monitors and hit a wrong note. ‘I ’ope you’re only the roadie and not the lead guitarist,’ a wag shouted from the bar, ‘or I’ll ’ave me money back.’
                Tommy screwed up his eyes. The ripples of exaggerated laughter grew louder. Maybe it was time for that curry, after all.
                Tommy got back in the club, ahead of the rest, and decided to order a pint, before watching the support act. He called over to a teenager, who sported purple and black hair, ‘Do you know anything about the first band on tonight?’
                She sniffed and rubbed her nose. ‘Local outfit from Wolverhampton called Great Expectations. They’ve got a cult following round here you know.’
                ‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t old Tommy Baddams.’ Tommy recognised the voice straight away and turned round to find his ex-wife confronting him.
                ‘Jill. What are you doing here? And less of the old if you don’t mind.’
                She looked him up and down. ‘Don’t even think, for one moment, I’m here to see your bunch of has-beens. They’re well past their sell by date.’
                Tommy ignored the jibe. Even dressed in her casual clothes, he still thought she appeared a touch too conservative to be at a rock music gig. He wondered if she had brought the bank manager along with her. ‘Are you on your own?’
                ‘No. I’m with my son.’
                ‘Young Tommy? Don’t you mean our . . .’
                Jill didn’t answer. An awkward silence followed for a few seconds.
                Tommy fiddled with his curly black hair, which always needed a little help from something in a bottle, and struggled to find the right words. ‘How is . . . you know . . . how is young Tommy?’
                ‘He’s doing fine. It’s a pity you didn’t stick around to find out yourself though, instead of chasing your silly rock star dream. You never were good enough to make it as a musician, were you?’         
                Tommy kept quiet, as he looked down at the beer-stained floor.
                ‘Your biggest claim to fame,’ she continued, ‘was being mistaken for that guitarist in Guns ’n’ Roses, in the 1990s, by two screaming girls. What a let-down it must have been when you turned round.’ Jill laughed out loud and carried on, ‘I don’t know why you keep hanging around with those losers, fetching and carrying for them.’
                He knew what she referred to; she didn’t need to spell it out. One album and four singles in the 1980s, that didn’t even make the top fifty, amounted to the height of the band’s career, before the record company dropped them.
                Tommy spread his hands. ‘Look how many punters are here already, this place must hold around seven hundred. Including the walk-up, it’s got a chance of selling out tonight. Not bad for three losers, is it?’
                ‘Don’t kid yourself Tommy, open your eyes. Most of them weren’t even born when you were hoping for that elusive hit album. It’s Great Expectations they’ve come to see. Haven’t you met them backstage?’
                ‘No I haven’t, went for a vindaloo instead.’
                With nothing left to say, Tommy made his way to watch the opening set. He glanced around him and remembered what Jill said about the fans. They must be some sort of Goth outfit, this young band, he thought, noticing the morbid make-up on the faces of both sexes. He looked in another direction, and that creep, over there, is like someone straight out of a Dickens novel. He did spot a few long haired ‘throwbacks’ from the 1980s, drinking brown ale out of a bottle, which cheered him up a little.
                ‘Excuse me, love. Excuse me please,’ he asked, pushing his way through the crowd to the front of the stage. ‘Can I just nip in here, mate? Excuse me,’ he repeated, then announced, for more authority, ‘Road crew! Mind your backs please.’
                Jill stood four paces away from him. ‘You were quick,’ he shouted, over the pre-recorded build-up music, which grew louder and louder. They must be good for you to rush to the front. Where’s . . .’
                ‘Where’s my son, do you mean? He’s in the band. You’ll see him in a few seconds.’
                Tommy lifted his shades slowly. He forced a smile, which didn’t reach his eyes. Still surprised, he made his way to the wings and gestured, in an act of compassion, for Jill to join him. She shook her head, as the main lights began to dim.
                The band’s roadie, who Tommy thought looked at least fourteen, held a torch above his head and flashed it towards the sound engineer at the back. Great Expectations were about to take to the stage. Hands started clapping and feet were stamping, harder and harder. There were a few calls for Tommy Baddams, but they weren’t directed at the original Tommy Baddams.
                The drummer sauntered on first and sat behind his kit. More of the band came on, with the same laid back attitude, and took up their positions. Tommy’s estranged son ran across the boards and strapped on his Les Paul. He had his father’s long black curly hair, and blue eyes, but a much more androgynous expression peered out from under his top hat.  
                As the opening guitar riff rang out of the speakers, note perfect, a single tear dripped down the face of the middle-aged man in the wings. He then wept freely and felt pangs of pride mingled with envy. Young Tommy Baddams grinned and acknowledged the shouts and whistles that emanated from the front of the stage.

* * *

Fifty Word Biography

I have been writing short stories for about four years. My published work has mainly been rewarded with complimentary issues from magazines. My first and only cheque, so far, arrived on Christmas Eve 2009. Before this, I was editor of a civic society newsletter for seven years.

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