Eruptors

 

The Eruptörs have a gig in Whitechapel, curated and (rather quietly) promoted by Tim, the manager of our label, Maniac Squat (named after a band Tim was in in the ‘90s that rose to brief notoriety with one perfectly-titled ‘song of the week’ in Kerrang! Magazine called “Fuck Off”, for which Tim was both lyricist and singer. Genius? Maybe). Tim is unable actually to attend the gig, which is irritating and sort of sends the wrong message to anyone else wondering whether or not to come to a punk rock gig in the café of an art gallery slightly off the beaten track in the trendy East End. It is the Eruptörs’ first gig in while and we are eager to Rock Out. Geoff has bought leather trousers especially for the event, and I have yet to play in the flame-adorned Harley Davidson Stetson that I picked up on honeymoon in Nashville, the purchase of which threatened to cause a first fissure in my young marriage to Jane.

I pull up in the car outside Whitechapel Art Gallery, as ever in trepidation that I will fall foul of a parking attendant by misreading the signs or leaving half-a-millimetre of tyre hovering with intent over a double yellow line. The sign says I have twenty minutes for loading. All righty, then – I take a look elsewhere; no way I can get a drum kit inside the venue, navigate to the lift, load in, travel up, off-load, stack somewhere safely and be back in the car in that  time, so I decide to try my luck around the back entrance (so to speak). A convenient alleyway there leads right to the back door and the lift to where we are playing. But unfortunately a car is backing out of the alley so I have to drive around the block to try again – the guy in the white van at my back has already honked unsympathetically twice, apparently incensed that I should slow to look for a space on his time. Feeling harassed, I do another circuit, only to find the car still gingerly emerging from the alleyway and someone else anxiously on my tail. Around again. On the third pass the loading bay at the front of the gallery is again momentarily vacant. I resume my spot there, resigned to the athletic fate of having to transfer my kit in stages and record time to beat the parking attendants before locating a more permanent parking place and hopefully still making the sound-check. As I reach the door, however, one of the staff, a really nice chap called Matt offers to help – but first he’ll see if we can’t get the car blocking the back alley to move. He quickly discovers that the car belongs to a minicab driver who is more than happy to move for me into a space just being vacated outside the curry house next door. (Brick Lane is known principally for three things: stolen bicycles, cheap mobile phones – probably also stolen – and curries; parking spaces are about as common as hens’ teeth.)

Thanks to the rare joy of civilized human interaction when parking in London, I unload the gear with a spring in my step and get it into the lift without hitch and with much unwarranted assistance from the attentive facilities staff of Whitechapel Art Gallery. I return to the car to complete my third circuit of the block and begin the fourth to return to Brick Lane where I intend to park for whatever the fee until the meters stop working at 7.00 PM. It is about 4.30. I get a decent spot and buy a ticket from a nearby machine, taking care to check I’ve left the car parked in a parking bay and not in a loading bay – a trap all too easy to fall into; I place the blue-Rizla-thin parking ticket on the dashboard and read it three times to be certain I’m certain I can leave the car there ‘til after the gig. Feeling cautiously confident, I head back to the venue for the sound check.

During set-up I manage to shear the thread of three screws on my Iron Cobra double bass drum pedal (it must have three-dozen adjustment points, about four of which are actually helpful), but I merely fit the spares I have brought, with a certain smugness. The Eruptörs are about to return to the London stage in triumphant style, and nothing will now stand in our way. Our sound-check goes smoothly, and in fact we have the best on-stage sound we’d ever had. My drums kick their usual amount of proverbial butt, and my co-Eruptörs sound awesome too. So all is well. Until a woman enters the room, screaming.

She is screaming at us, the Eruptörs (doesn’t she know who we are?!?!), telling us that this is not a venue for rock and roll, that we are too loud, and that she is trying to work but can not do so because of the unmentionably loud music we were just playing in her art gallery. When asked, she advises us that she was the Director of this institution and that no, she has not heard anything from Tim, her General Manager (the guy who booked us, who happens conveniently to be in France for three days), about there being a gig tonight, and that no, we absolutely may not finish our sound-check at least until she, the Director, has left the building, and she cannot possibly say when that might be. She ignores Alex’s offer of a hand to shake in an attempt to diffuse the situation, and storms out. Bugger. But never mind – there’s always something, and this time she was it. The Veez, who are supporting us, will just have to have their sound-check later. We’re all using most of the same gear anyway.

A group of our friends arrives, and we decide to go for something to eat (with them). Brick Lane is famous for providing just this type of diversion, but curiously none of us fancies the customary Indian cuisine; so instead of stopping at any one of the bargain curry houses with their tenacious marketeers outside attempting vigorously to reel us in, we continue up the street until we find a place offering corn-on-the-cob and soft drinks. As we sit to eat, I mention (frankly, pretty casually) that on the way up Brick Lane I didn’t notice my car parked where I’m pretty sure I left it. A few of the party half-hear me, and softly, if disinterestedly, consent that I probably just missed it – how could it not be there? So many cars look the same nowadays! Except that mine has distinctive AA Driving School decals all over it, unlike any other vehicle on the street, and it should stand out like a sore thumb. I finish my worse-than-mediocre corn and contrive with Geoff and Alex to look more carefully for my car on our way back to the venue. The car is again noticeably absent. Shag.

I opt to loiter awhile in bemusement and discontent while the band and entourage head back to the venue to concentrate on getting hyped up for our immanent epic concert. I am wondering whether to call the police when a patrol car serendipitously drives past. I chase it up the road, gesticulating wildly. Happily, the patrol car stops, and a round-ish police officer in his late forties (glad, no doubt, that it was I who was doing the chasing), winds down his window. It is then that I realise that to him I might appear both highly suspect and pretty damned funny, dressed as I am in full classic rock regalia including cowboy boots, Guns n’ Roses t-shirt (no sleeves, of course), Eruptörs patched denim jacket, studded leather bracelets and the obligatory new Stetson with flames under the brim. In costume and out of breath, I advise the officer that my car has been stolen. His lady driver, in a lot more make-up than I imagined police officers of either sex to wear, suggests that it has been towed away. After acknowledging her suggestion with all the modesty I can muster it dawns on me how absurd my story sounds. I am an unlikely driving instructor, and it does seem a stretch that anyone would steal a driving school car replete with AA logos and dual pedals. And did I really remember to lock the car? Was it definitely in the parking (not loading) bay? Crap. The police officers hand me their call sign on a post-it-note and I hear the driver radio some other patrols to keep an eye out for my car.

As the Police drive away, Kath, the Veez drummer, comes running up to me, sympathizing and saying how shit this all is. I am touched by her comradeship, and we walk to where I parked the car (now full of someone else’s vehicle). Some guy tries to get us into his restaurant for dinner, and while I want to shout at him for even suggesting such a thing at a time like this when I still have burnt corn stuck between my teeth and no goddam car, Kath in her sanguine brilliance instead asks him if he has seen my car being taken away. He has not, but his friend informs us that Tower Hamlets Borough Council came about half an hour ago and towed the car away on a truck. I feel a peculiar mixture of emotions, and wonder things like: How the hell will I get the drums home now? More to the point, WHY IN GOD’S NAME DID THEY TOW MY GODDAM CAR?!

When I get back to the art gallery in a massive adolescent sulk Matt says I can leave the drums in the venue after the gig for the night if I want; or, his colleague Richard has just offered to go home on public transport, get his van, and then drive me and my gear to my place after the gig. Incredible. Whence do such kindly souls come? I wax equal parts grateful and pissed off, trying to stifle the overwhelming and desperately unhelpful urge to hurt myself or somebody else. I settle upon the lavatory as the best place to vent my bladder and my rage. En route and scowling, I encounter in the stairwell three young women I taught to drive, who have long threatened to come to an Eruptörs gig. I summon a weak smile and one of them asks how I am. I spare no detail in explaining, whereupon they burst out laughing. These girls could be anywhere tonight but have made a special trip to see me play; so weirdly their mockery and mirth at my childish tantrum proves the ideal tonic. I feel ten times better and thank them for coming before making excuses to go and relieve myself.

Half an hour later, I can’t wait to go on stage with the Eruptörs. My wife is there, some friends have shown up, we’ve rehearsed, we are sounding better than ever, my double pedal is working (As is not always the case), the gallery’s director has apparently gone home, and the Veez are now half way through their rocking set, and we’ve received no noise complaints. Things could not be much better; bugger the car – that is a problem for tomorrow. The Eruptörs give the audience the best gig of our career. We open with AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” – just in case anyone is unsure as to why we’re here. We tear into each successive song with energy and abandon. I feel fantastic, and play my arse off. Our final song is “Skate Fast Die Hard”, which concludes with a massive, self-indulgent drum solo – o yes!!!

As we begin packing up after a sweaty, noisy, and arse-kicking half-hour of ear-shattering punk metal, I notice a lady in Metropolitan Police uniform waving up to us from the alley two storeys below. I pay her no heed, assuming she is looking for some crackheads or drug dealers is merely confused. Moments later, however, friendly Matt strides into the centre of the room accompanied by three police officers, turns off the Mötely Crüe coming form the PA and calls everyone’s attention. He proceeds to advise us all that the venue must immediately be vacated by all apart from those working here, as the police have received ten complaints from neighbours about the volume of noise ensuing from the art gallery. It’s not even 11 o’clock yet – what were these people on?! “Loud?!” Yes, we’d put some effort in, but the drums weren’t even miked! Although I know that I and probably just about anyone could not have hit them any harder – hehehehehe…

We pack up, amused, bemused and confused. Saintly Richard drives me home with the drums, and I sit down to a hard-earned medicinal glass of red wine.

*************************************

The fun continues the following morning when I call the school where I usually teach clarinet and music theory on Fridays to advise them I will not be in. They are okay about it, as I pretty much never cancel and there is probably a note of anguish in my voice suggesting that any protestations will be unlikely to help either of us at this point. I “only” lose out on about £150 from that day’s teaching. Humph.

So, to the car pound. It turns out to be bloody miles away, in an abandoned corner of Canning Town London so far east it’s practically in the North Sea. It takes nearly two hours to reach by public transport but seems a lot longer due to my distinctly irritable mood. When I arrive at the pound I a, first struck by the number of cars. There appear to be thousands – I was expecting a few dozen, and suspect that the parking-fining-towing system in Tower Hamlet is a little too efficient. There is a small prefab hut housing two female occupants apparently competing iwth one another for prizes in disgruntlement – over one window a sign reads “Hackney”; over the other “Tower Hamlets”. The queue for the Tower Hamlets window is about 15 times the length of the Hackney one. Why, I wonder, were Hackney residents apparently so much more savvy to their borough’s parking restrictions? I queue for a tense, silent half hour (broken only by rude, blunt, unhelpful or occasionally civil remarks from the women fronting the Councils’ barely-legitimate money-laundering scheme) before reaching the window.

I am obliged to pay two fees – £60 for the towing, and £140 for the car’s overnight stay in a car park. These seem nothing short of extortionate. Although the repeated drama played out ahead of me in the queue for the preceding thirty minutes ought perhaps to have cautioned me against this, I ask why my car was towed, since I bought a ticket and displayed it on the dashboard and the ticket was presumably still in the car. After some shouting with a man out-the-back it is established by my disgruntled lady that, while it is clear I indeed bought a ticket, unfortunately the ticket has fallen on to the floor of the car. While still visible, it is not (as per the requirements of Tower Hamlets Borough Council) ‘clearly on display’. Thus I simply need to pay up in full or continue to pay the hefty daily rate for my car to be kept in the pound on the edge of the known universe. I pay up, am allowed past the stainless steel gate into the pound proper. I realize as I get in the car and root around for my sunglasses the reason for the disparity in the length of the two queues. Next to my glasses case is an old Hackney parking ticket, which has an adhesive back, so that it sticks to one’s car window. Tower Hamlets’ tickets, on the other hand, are cruelly designed to blow away – I see mine from yesterday, face-up on the floor of the car. The prize for money-grabbing, anti-parochial opportunists goes to… the London Borough of Tower Hamlets!

I quite enjoy the (start of the) drive home – a rare, unhurried jaunt through the streets of Far-East London. To avoid the Congestion Charge I opt for the North Circular and promptly land myself in 90 minutes in heavy, anti-clockwise traffic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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