Long Live Rock And Roll

The four men inside the small room didn't speak. It was as if the very smallness of the dressing room had stifled speech itself. As if the cracks in the walls had absorbed all sound.

They each seemed lost in their own thoughts, those thoughts ranging from irritation to nervousness.

One of them plucked at the strings of an electric guitar, the sounds which came from it high and keening without the aid of the amp. He sucked on a cigarette and glanced up at his companions. The other members of Iceberg.

The name seemed most appropriate considering how chilly it was inside the dressing room. The band had been together for more than five years now, they'd grown up together practically. Playing in sheds and garages or parents' houses when they could. Snatching eagerly at the chance to practice, to hone their skills. Always looking for a break. Praying for a chance. Pubs, clubs, even wedding receptions they played. Anything that paid. Anything that gave them exposure. And money. Though fifty pounds didn't go far split four ways and, by the time they'd paid for the transport to and from the gig, they were lucky to come away with a fiver each. The diversity of work may even have been amusing if it had paid better. One night they were in a club playing rock music, the four of them tearing riffs from their instruments, roaring through a set comprising covers and their own material. The following day they might be at a wedding. Jeans, T-shirts and Jimi Hendrix one night, shirts, ties and "The Birdy Song" the next. Life was a bitch. But, for the members of Iceberg, it wasn't a friendly bitch. It was a cruel, demanding and mostly unrewarding bitch.

"A big gig," said the vocalist, rubbing his bare arms and shivering from the cold. "Big Hallowe'en gig." He shook his head. "Jesus Christ."

"You can't expect a headline date at Wembley. At least we're getting paid," said the second man who was tapping out a rhythm on the cracked walls with a pair of drumsticks. Simon Carter spun one of the sticks and looked at his companions.

The bass player was hugging his instrument as if it were a long lost over, perhaps seeking comfort from it.

The guitarist was still absently picking at the strings of his Strat.

The vocalist was the only one who held Simon's gaze and the drummer could see anger in his colleague's eyes.

"We don't even know anything about this place," said the vocalist.

"We're getting paid five hundred quid to do the gig," Simon reminded him. "That's more than we've been paid for all the other things we've done put together. Why don't we just stop moaning, go out there and do it."

The vocalist checked his watch.

"Yeah, all right, we've got five minutes."

They'd been told that seven hundred tickets had been sold for the Hallowe'en night gig which was due to start at midnight.

"Come on," Simon said. "The worst they can do is request a Kylie Minogue song."

The other three members of the band got to their feet and, together they headed for the door which led out of the dressing room. It opened into a dimly lit corridor about twelve feet long. It reminded Simon of the condemned man's last walk as he moved along in the gloom. If there really were seven hundred people out there waiting then they were managing to keep pretty damn quiet.

The place was silent.

As the members of Iceberg walked out onto the stage, Simon saw the audience, or at least the few of them at the front of the stage. They were packed like sardines, right up to the front line monitors but, as Simon settled himself on his drum throne, he realised that they were standing, not in an untidy mass but in tightly packed, almost regimented, straight lines.

The band took up their positions to the sound of devastating silence.

"Are you ready for some Hallowe'en rock and roll?" the vocalist roared.

The silence continued.

"All right. I want to hear you make some noise. Let me see those hands in the air."

Nothing.

Simon would have been grateful for an outbreak of flatulence from the audience. Anything was better than this.

The audience looked on intently but didn't move.

Iceberg launched into their set.

Six songs later the audience were still immobile.

Simon wiped his forehead and gazed out at them.

Three more songs were met with similar non-reaction and Iceberg finally left stage with the thunder of absolute silence in their ears. Simon paused by the edge of the stage, waved and threw his sticks into the audience.

He heard the clatter as they hit the floor.

He scuttled back to the dressing room where the others were already waiting.

"No wonder bands who play here are never heard of again," snarled the vocalist. "What a waste of bloody time."

Simon could only nod in agreement.

His musings were interrupted by a knock at the door.

"That's probably an A&R man wanting to sign us up," he said, trying to sound cheerful.

"Or an undertaker wanting to know if we're free to do a funeral next week," the vocalist snapped as the door was opened to admit a tall wiry man who they recognised as the manager of the club.

"Marvellous," he said. "I've been booking bands for this club for years and you were one of the best."

"It's a pity the bloody crowd didn't agree," snapped the vocalist.

"The crowd loved you. They loved everyone who plays here. Look." He pushed open the door.

The corridor was filled with people.

Members of the crowd.

The first two carried knives. The next an axe.

The four men inside the room seemed to freeze, trying to back away but knowing there was nowhere to run.

The crowd were moving forward.

"Some fans are never satisfied," said the manager, holding his arms across the door and looking at the nearest fan. He snarled, lips sliding back to reveal a pair of abnormally long canine teeth.

"Some crowds want blood, sweat and tears." He chuckled. "This lot, they'll just settle for blood..."

© Shaun Hutson 1991