The Big Music
I am where I am to be found most Fridays around seven in the evening, sat in a booth at the public house that’s within spitting distance of the office. The pint of bitter, that has been helping to wash away the mundane stress of another week of work, sits on the worn, stained, oak table in front of me. The barmaid with the killer smile flirts her way effortlessly across the bar, teasing the suited customers who escape here en route to the weekend. The place was popular enough, not trendy enough to be packed with the ‘more money then sense’ crowd, yet not quaint enough to be a tourist trap for the passing Americans that swarm around London in the summer months. It was the type of place you met up at before going to the place where you actually wanted to spend Friday night. It always suited us though, the music was low enough so as to actually hear the person across the table from you. It wasn’t one of those generic chain bars either, one of it’s most redeeming features in my book. The pictures on the walls were real photographs of real staff, and actual customers, that had frequented the place down the years, and not something culled from a random designers catalog to establish some sense of heritage.
I always thought it would kind of cool to know a place like this well enough to earn a picture on a wall, even a small one. Hell I’d settle for a postcard.
The guy sitting across from me is my friend Daniel, my usual partner in crime for this time on a Friday, who is possibly the happiest person you are ever likely to meet. To be honest to call him a ‘friend’ was probably stretching the definition. I had only known him for a couple of years since he joined the same IT company that I slave away at everyday. He calls me a friend and, as is the way with most people, that’s enough for me even if we can’t figure out why. We generally don’t complain when people decide that they like us, or that we share a connection, even when we can’t exactly place what the grounds of that connection might be.
You see, he’s not just happy in the usual ways that one might associate with the word ‘happy’. There is no lottery win, pay rise, promotion or wondrous night of passion with a stumbled upon soul mate at work here. Daniel is just happy. Happy to the point where I don’t think, in the two years I have known the man, that I have seen so much as a frown even hint at appearing on his face. It’s like everything in life delights him, everything and anything keeps the smile wide across his face and the positive demeanor never so much as flinches. It’s almost spooky. In fact, Daniel is happy to the point that most who meet him generally conclude that there must be something ‘not right’ with the man. That, or as the macho types around the office, conclude in their ignorance, he ‘has to be gay’. At least until they are reminded that Charlotte from accounts discovered otherwise, allegedly over the photocopier in the print room, during the office party last Christmas. Daniel just fires a sly smile in your direction and shrugs whenever asked about that night. He never seems to particularly care what other people think.
“She’s a pretty soul all right,” was all he would usually say when I asked. I think he took delight in knowing that people didn't seem to understand him.
Tonight he was in a talkative mood, the normal Friday evening musings on life and goings on had veered toward people’s outlook on life, in the way only conversations across a pint can.
“Don’t you think its funny the way people always like to doubt happiness?” Daniel asked looking up from his beer.
“What do you mean?”
“I think it’s some form of curious and strange cosmic paradox that most people spend a good portion of their everyday energies trying to achieve this wonderful ‘thing’ they have in their minds that goes by the name of ‘happiness’.”
“But you think they doubt it?”
“All the time! People seem to spend an almost equal amount of energy generally doubting that such a thing actually exists, when it’s all around them if they just bothered to look.”
“Not everyone shares your outlook on life Dan!”
Daniel shrugged and took a sip from his beer, “Maybe, I was very lucky for sure, but people don’t just leave it there either. Even when they accept that it does actually exist it's almost as if we convince ourselves that we somehow aren't deserving of it.”
“Well for most of us, all we get is agonizingly brief glimpses of it now and again, “ I smiled.
“Bah”, Daniel blurted, “people just don’t look hard enough, they always have a seemingly compulsive fear that somehow, something will crop up and ensure that happiness doesn't last. It’s really not as complicated as all that.”
“It’s not? You are an expert on such things are you?” I joked.
“Do you really want to know?” He had an almost devilish slant to his smile as he said it; “I actually was hoping to get to talk to you about something along those lines tonight.”
Daniel nodded and slowly taking another sip from his beer, leaned back and smiled, “You know how people think that, well, I am shall we say, unnaturally happy?”
I nodded, “It’s pretty hard to miss.”
“Have you ever been curious why?”
“I prefer not to pry, it suits you.”
“That’s exactly why I like you!” He laughed loudly, “never judging, I think you are the only person I know who hasn't asked if I was taking something, not that there are any drugs that can give what I have. That’s why I have always felt comfortable in your company, my friend.”
“Thanks, I think.” I replied quietly
“Oh, it’s a compliment, take it as such. People like you are few and far between. There is a cynical judgmental arsehole in almost all of us.”
“So why are you so happy then?”
“You really want to know?”
“Ok, I’ll tell you, because I want to ask you something afterwards, but you have to hear me out, ok?”
Daniel took another slow sip from his glass and started his story
“It was Nineteen Eighty Three, and I had just turned twenty. We were out somewhere in Soho, strangely enough I forget the name of the bar I met her at. It was definitely Soho though; we had planned on going to Ronnie Scott’s but were out of luck on the ticket front. Arturo Sandoval was rumoured to be in town and doing an impromptu set and we were dying to get to it, wasn’t exactly easy to see Cuban artists all that often.”
“So we, some friends and I, were sitting in this bar bemoaning the fact we couldn't get tickets, or even get anyone to confirm that he was appearing. I remember that we were deep in discussion over whether his new stuff was as good as the material from the Irakere album. I had got up to go to the bar I think, but stumbled across her. I don’t even remember how, what prompted me stopping there I mean, but before I knew it I was there. I was chatting away to her. Odd that I can never recall how that came to be, but there you have it.”
“She was, I guess what you would have called, a punk at the time, not in the bright painted hair Mohawk type of way, more in a ‘ wouldn't be out of place on a Ramone’s album cover’ kind of way. Her name was Samantha, which she readily admitted wasn't very ‘punk’ but it was what she had been given. I remember she told me she was also know as 'Soho' by her friends, on account of her fondness of the place. It was slightly more 'punk' then Samantha. Her white T-Shirt that hid behind the leather jacket declared ‘Only Anarchists are pretty’, and she sure as hell was pretty.”
“Her short jet black hair and pale complexion seemed to be natural, not like some of the goth chicks you see these days. The black lipstick was pure Elvira though and there was a special sparkle to her eyes that I think caught me first. We kept chatting and eventually got talking about music. Our tastes were different, but she seemed genuinely interested when I started to champion the merits of good jazz. That was rare in those days.”
“We sat and talked for a time, I can’t recall how long it was, but my friends drifted off one by one. Almost without realizing it, I had ended up sat there by the bar alone with Samantha. There was something about her that I just couldn't place, a passion that was almost contagious.
‘The music of this age is so compelling’, she enthused, ‘it’s everything that music should be. The powers that be may try to control and manipulate, but they can never censor what the music says to people.’
‘Music is a common language’ I remember replying, such youthful naivety I guess, although she seemed to have a maturity beyond her years that you couldn't miss.
‘Exactly, and people shouldn't fear war, famine or disease, you really need to worry when they control the music, that’ll be the beginning of the end, I am sure.’
‘I don’t think even the government could control music totally’ I ventured, ‘artistic impression always tends to survive.’
‘Oh it’s not the governments I would worry about,’ she laughed, ‘but it’s not anything you need to worry about yet. Anyway, Daniel, what do you say to hitting a concert?’
‘I’m not sure that I’d be welcome in the type of place you’d go to, no offence and all.’
‘Oh, don’t be silly' she said with a smile, 'I wouldn’t take you to a punk concert, wouldn’t want you to get the shit kicked out of you now would we? No, this is a very special concert. I have some friends, who know some people, you know how it is, and I have a spare ticket to a very special show. Been looking for someone suitable to take all week.’
‘You think I fit the bill? We only just met.’
‘You can find out a lot about someone in a couple of hours I think, and I know enough to want to invite you, so the question is, have you learnt enough to want to accept the invitation?’
I smiled and laughed a little, she certainly had a way about her, I wasn’t usually the sort to be impulsive but there was something strangely compelling in her eyes, that smile. Soon enough I was making my way through the streets of Soho, with a girl called 'Soho' until eventually we were winding our way through parts of the city I had never see. The type of Soho alleyways that common sense would have dictated you avoided after dark in that neck of the woods.
She clearly knew her way around, darted down through them as if as well acquainted with them as the whores and pushers that traded their wares quietly but without seeming to care who noticed.
‘You sure about this?’ I remember asking, to which she just smiled and told me not to worry so much.
‘Here it is’ she said eventually as we came across a large cast iron door at the end of one of the alleys. It had at some point been painted a racing green. The paintwork though had clearly seen better days. It competed with the encroaching rust to define the colour of the surface. The half-light provided the flickering neon of the single overhead strip light that lit the alley, gave it an ominous atmosphere that hardly set me at ease.
I was almost disappointed that there wasn’t a slit-grate of some sort in the door that would draw back when we knocked, it was one of those imposing doors that you half expect a pair of stern eyes to appear behind, and gruffly demand to know a password.
As it was, the man that appeared from behind the door when Samantha knocked twice sharply on the door was probably just as good as any password. To say he was huge was an understatement. My grandfather would no doubt have described him as being ‘as big as a brick shithouse’ and it was the first thought that came to mind. Easily six and a half feet tall and almost as wide as the door itself. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone of those proportions before. If I hadn’t been staring at him I’d have said it was almost unnatural.
His almost polished balding head glinted in the neon glow of the alley and cast deep shadows into his eye sockets, and I was suddenly very conscious of his startling and beady eyes looking me up and down.
‘It’s ok Morris, he is with me’ Samantha beamed at the giant man, ‘thought I’d bring a guest tonight.’
‘Ahh it’s you blossom,’ the man replied, in an almost tender voice that really wasn’t what I expected to hear from such a threatening hulk, 'almost didn’t see you there Soho, you really ought to wear more colour you know, the black isn’t really you.’
‘It’s the fashion these days,’ she chirped, twirling round on her heels quickly. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was flirting with the fellow.
‘Always the one for keeping up to date aren't you blossom, I do like the t-shirt though,’ he offered, with what I guess passes for a smile when you had a face like his.
‘Thanks Morris, I picked it up in the market last weekend, down in old man Camden's streets.’
‘So this one is with you?’ He asked turning his attention back to me. I could tell there was a disapproving tone in the question, ‘and you’ve agreed the price?’
I hadn’t even thought of the price of the tickets, thankfully I had a crisp ten-pound note in my wallet that was to have paid for the jazz tickets. ‘How much is it Samantha?’ I asked reaching to get my wallet out.
She just giggled and gave me a playful hug, ‘I don’t want your money, and that’s not the price of this invitation.’
‘Then what is?’ I asked, slightly nervously.
‘Oh, I don’t think you will complain, my price for inviting you is simple really,' she beamed, 'you have to spend the night with me after the concert.’
‘Spend the night? As in….’
She laughed and leaned towards me, giving me the softest of kisses on the cheek. ‘I think you can imagine what it might involve now can’t you?’
‘Then the price is agreed?’ The giant man asked me gruffly. I am pretty sure I couldn’t imagine a more awkward moment in my life. I was suddenly very unsure of what exactly I had gotten myself into.
‘I guess so’ I replied rather meekly as Samantha tugged at my sleeve and pulled me through the door.
The inside was in stark contrast to the dingy alleyway we had just left. Ornately carved mahogany Victorian wall panels adorned the walls, with black and white marble tiles rolling out along the corridor. A series of reserved but clearly expensive small chandeliers hung from the ceiling, brightly lighting the way towards a large wooden double door.
I was more concerned with what had just gone on outside though.
‘Listen, Samantha, what you just said, I hope you don’t think…’
‘Shhh,’ she said shaking her head, ‘it’ll be great. Don’t worry, besides, the pleasure will be all mine after you have heard the song.’
‘The song? Just the one?’
‘Well, its not just a song exactly in the traditional sense, at least it’s longer then your average chart track, but it's not a symphony or anything like that. Don't worry I am not going to bore you into submission like some vapid opera chick. It’s better you just go in with no expectations, its much more delicious that way,’ there was a mischievous sparkle to her smile now, ‘trust me Daniel, you’ll like it.’
With that, we reached the double doors and she pulled them open to reveal an oval room buzzing with activity. Like the corridor we had come down, the stained mahogany panels ran all along the length of the walls, floor to ceiling. There was an even larger set of double doors opposite the ones we were entering from, and a number of heavy-set wooden benches that matched the panelling perfectly. There must have been at least thirty people milling around, in addition to half a dozen thin, gaunt looking fellows that I presumed to be staff of some kind, since they shared matching navy blue blazers that bore some form of gold crest that I couldn’t quite make out. They all had the same pale complexion and thin stern looking faces. You would almost hazard a guess that they were all related. They shared a distinctively sharp chin and very intensely deep-set eyes that only made them look all the more officious. I couldn’t quite make out what kind of a crowd they were. A few appeared to be wealthy types dressed for an opera or some such upper crust affair, but you wouldn’t really imagine, by the looks of them at least, that this was a normal type of gathering. The elderly couple at the far end of the room could have passed for vagrants, while the men around the circular bar that sat under the massive chandelier that dominated the middle of the ceiling appeared to be city types, maybe bankers or solicitors. The rest I wouldn’t have given a second glance, if they passed me walking down the street my flat was on. As ordinary as I considered myself I guess.
Samantha lead me over to one of the benches and had me sit down, ‘They will tell us when its time to go in,’ she explained, ‘no-one is allowed into the hall before the performer is ready.’
‘What the hell is this place Samantha? This is totally surreal.’
‘I guess it is a bit. We call it ‘The Chamber’ and it’s been here as long as any of us can remember. I can’t remember it not being here at any rate. It’s kind of an exclusive club I guess, the concerts though are very rare, you are very lucky that I chose you tonight.’
‘Look, yes, about that,’ I gulped nervously, I had to admit that the idea of spending the night with Samantha was far from the worst idea that had ever crossed my mind, but I didn’t want a complete stranger thinking I just hopped into bed with whoever offered, ‘what you said outside, I don’t usually do this type of thing you know.’
‘Oh?’ She laughed loudly and winked at me, ‘you thought I meant you were lucky to get to spend the night with me? Hah, well the night will be mind blowing, at least for me, don’t worry, but I meant you were lucky to get to hear the song.’
‘Are all these people here to see the concert then?’ I asked, deciding to change the subject quickly
‘Most of them,’ she sounded like she was about to start to explain, but before she could go on, almost everyone’s attention fell on the rather rotund older man who had suddenly started arguing with one of the thin men in the blazer that was stationed by the large double doors.
‘What do you mean my wife can’t go in with me?’ He demanded angrily.
‘I am terribly sorry sir but your invitation is personal.’
‘I paid ten thousand pounds for this ticket god damn it. For that price I expect to be able to bring the fucking Queen of Sheba, let alone my missus.’ He started shouting, as I noticed another of the men in the navy blue blazers slip off back down the corridor, I imagined to fetch the giant from the door, as the older man got more and more irate.
‘I am sorry sir, it just can’t be done.’ The thin gaunt man replied calmly.
‘New money, no respect.’ Samantha whispered to me, as we watched the man shake his fist angrily at the thin man in the blazer.
‘Did he just say that he paid ten grand to be here?’ I whispered back.
‘Quite possibly,’ she smiled, ‘see, you got off cheap didn’t you?’
‘We each get to name our price for the invitation, there are no rules exactly about what the price might be.’
The portly man was by now getting more and more agitated by the fact that he didn’t seem to be raising any kind of reaction from the thin gaunt man. His cheeks were getting flushed and he was now waving a lit cigar very close to the man’s face.
‘I’ll have your fucking name I will.’ He spat angrily, ‘come on, who the fuck is in charge here?’. A woman, fancily dressed in a long evening gown, presumably his wife, tried in vain to calm him down.
Just as you got the feeling that it might all come to blows, the giant man from the door came barrelling in and made straight for him. Quickly positioning himself right in front of the portly man, he must have a cut a very imposing figure from where the man was standing. ‘Problem here gentleman?’ he asked in the way that you knew wasn’t intended to prompt any answer other then ‘no’.
‘Your man here says I can’t bring my wife in!’ the portly man offered, obviously not so brave when confronted with someone clearly twice his size and whose demeanour suggested he’d happily break you in two.
‘Invitations are for one only.’
‘But I paid a king’s ransom for this ticket.’
‘Invitations are for one only.’
‘Look here, this is no way to treat your paying guests!’
‘Invitations are for one only.’
'This is fucking preposterous.' The longer the conversation went back and forward however, the more looming the doorman must have appeared.
‘I’m sorry sir, maybe you ‘re hard of hearing. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt given your age and all. Invitations are for one only. Now are you going to sit down and behave or do I have to ask you to leave?’
The portly man gulped quietly and shook his head, ‘This is the last time I come here, don’t expect me to recommend this thing to any of my associates!’ he rasped.
‘It is the last time indeed’ The large man from the door said with a wink, ‘and don’t worry I am sure we will live without your recommendation, although I wager you’ll change your mind.’
The gaunt man in the blazer laughed slightly to himself, as the doorman escorted the irate guest back to one of the benches, then made his way out down the corridor again. Commotion over, the other guests starting talking amongst themselves again. The portly man was met with a scolding from his wife, who I could only presume wasn’t too enamoured at being embarrassed by his antics.
‘So these people are all invited?’ I asked turning back to Samantha.
She nodded, ‘See that couple over there?’ she asked, glancing towards a middle aged man and his obviously younger companion. The girl was pretty in the kind of overdone way, that was the fashion in those days, all hairspray, shoulder-pads and lip gloss. For his part, he appeared to be one of the more average types in the room. I guess it was safe to say, that anyone seeing them together would have wondered what he did to land a ‘catch’ like that.
‘It’s kind of sad; he had an invitation but is letting her go in his place. She doesn’t love him, but he thinks he loves her enough to think this is going to help the both of them.’
‘That’s nice of him.’
Samantha shrugged, ‘he knows what this is about, his mother was invited a decade ago, he knows the effect the song has on people.’
‘And he’s giving it up for her? That sounds sweet.’
‘Well-intentioned but foolhardy,’ Samantha sighed, ‘he knows that deep down she is the insecure type and always in search of a happiness she will never let herself find, so he is sacrificing his happiness for her.’
‘That’s a bad thing somehow?’
‘Not bad I suppose, more sad. He knows full well that she won’t see him in the same way afterwards and it won’t be him that will fill her heart with joy. He knows all too well what the happiness does to people.’
‘People do strange things for love.’
Samantha laughed, I could have sworn it was in an almost callous way that I hadn’t expected for some reason. ‘People do strange things to be martyrs and feel like they have to save people. Never understood that in people, but if it really gives him some sense of being, then who am I to argue?’
‘So you are saying we should be more selfish?’
‘Sometimes perhaps, maybe, can’t honestly say that in all my years I have figured out the answer to that. I can say that I wouldn’t miss the song, if I knew what it would mean.’
‘This must be some song,’ I remarked, ‘what exactly have you gotten me into?’
Samantha smiled, ‘I don’t recall dragging you here against your will. The question, Daniel, is why you have gotten yourself into this?’
I remember thinking that I didn’t rightly know the answer to that question as we sat there. She had a certain air about her that I couldn’t quite place. It never crossed my mind to leave though, now I was just far too curious.
I tried to act as if there wasn’t something fundamentally strange about the whole situation and Samantha and I chatted for a time, as we had in the bar earlier, which most peculiarly almost seemed like a lifetime ago. As we sat there and talked, more people filtered into the room. The room, it turned out, was deceptively large. I wasn’t about to count, but guessed that there were easily a couple of hundred people milling around by now, yet the room seemed to have the same space and dimensions as it had when we first entered, and didn’t seem that much more crowded. We were talking about how it was strange that you could find these odd places hidden and tucked away in London if you knew the right doors to knock on, when Samantha spotted someone she knew and excitedly waved him over. ‘You have to meet Sheamus!’ she exclaimed, ‘always the life of the party.’
Sheamus was a small man, with shocking red hair and just about as many freckles as I can recall seeing on anyone, either before or after that day. He couldn’t have been any more then five feet tall. Certainly not a dwarf, but small enough so that I imagine it wasn’t something he had an easy time with. He had a blond girl on his arm that was a good foot taller than him, almost all of which was leg that was being paraded beneath a tight, black lycra dress. The thick vertical black and white stripes of the dress only served to make her seem even taller. He was wearing what appeared to be a green felt suit that was clearly well tailored. A navy blue silk shirt with green pinstripes was finished off by a pair of polished black oxfords.
‘Soho my blossom! So good to see you, didn’t know you were in town’ he boomed in what, unless I was mistaken, was a broad New York accent that was trying hard to sound Irish, ‘doing the punk thing I see?’
Samantha nodded and introduced me. Sheamus shook my hand firmly, smiling, ‘Pleasure to meet you, good strong hand shake for a tan.’
‘So what’s your friend's name?’ Samantha asked looking the blond up and down slowly.
‘Where are my manners! Sorry lady muck here is Amy,’ Sheamus answered, ‘brought her over from New York for the gig.’
Amy shook us both gently by the hand in turn, and smiled, she didn’t seem the talkative type.
‘So you live in New York?’ I asked, turning back to Sheamus, ‘I hear a little Irish in that accent.’ I added, feeling like it was the thing I should say.
Sheamus smiled broadly, ‘Aye, I do, and yes I am, made my way through Ellis Island for me troubles many moons ago. I guess now the locals would call me a plastic paddy though eh? The accent being more Brooklyn then Ballyfermot now and all, even I have to admit to that.’
‘It’s good that you keep up the traditions.’ Samantha laughed.
‘Aye, more Irish in New York then there is back home now you know, and well, the accent works wonders with the ladies.’ He laughed loudly, and winked at his companion, ‘now where can I get a pint of plain around here?’
With that, Samantha whisked him off in the direction of the bar and I was left sitting alone with the tall blond. ‘So, Amy was it?’ I said, trying to avoid an uncomfortable silence, ‘first time in London?’
She just nodded and continued playing with her hair.
‘I see, looking forward to the concert?’
I just got a shrug out of her that time.
‘Good stuff, hear its quite a show,’ I continued, more for my benefit then hers, ‘guess it will be worth the wait eh?’
So we sat there for what seemed like far more then a trip to the bar and back again should have been. There were now so many people in the room that I couldn’t see where Samantha and Sheamus had gotten to.
The American girl just sat there playing with her hair, at least I presumed she was American, but couldn’t be sure since she hadn’t said a word to anyone yet.
Another ten minutes must have passed, as I tried to look casually around the room, and not stare at her legs too much. I looked down at my watch and noticed it wasn’t running, judging by how long we had been in here I guessed it must have stopped not long after we had arrived. I tried to wind it up again, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. I really hoped it wasn’t broken or my mother would be furious when she found out. It had been a gift from my father’s estate when he died. I tapped the face a couple of times to try and stir it into action but it was no good. I slipped it off my wrist and carefully wrapped it in my handkerchief and hoped I remembered in the morning to find a repair place. Just as I slipped it into my jacket pocket, the American girl finally spoke.
‘Do you think I’m ready to be happy?’ she whispered. I wasn’t an expert but I think it was a southern accent. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question to be honest, and usually I’d have thought it a strange, or even pretentious question, but tonight it seemed run of the mill.
‘Guess that’s decided for us usually, ready or not, as it were.’
She laughed softly, ‘that’s a very English way of looking at it; always take it as it comes don’t you? Where I come from we like to believe we decide our own destinies, make our own dreams a reality’ There was a frail break in her voice, almost as if she was afraid of speaking any louder.
‘Americans are usually quite the confident bunch,’ I agreed, ‘although, no offence intended, it’s not always justified.’
‘Likewise, you are often more in control of your lives then you like to admit.’
‘A fair enough comment I guess, can’t say I had ever thought about it like that.’
She nodded and went back to playing with her hair. It appeared as if that was all the conversation I was going to get out of her. Time drifted again and I was sat there, still trying to avoid admiring her legs too much, and wishing that Samantha would return soon. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long as Samantha and Sheamus returned, pints of Guinness in hand. If I didn’t know better, both looked a little flushed and his shirt that had been neatly tucked into his belt was now hanging loose under his jacket. I decided it was best not to ask what they had been up to.
‘Sorry we took so long,’ Samantha apologised, reaching down and kissing me on the cheek gently, ‘we had a lot of catching up to do.’
Sheamus winked at me and sat down beside the quiet American.
‘She doesn’t say much’ I whispered to Samantha, ‘they make an odd couple.’
‘Sheamus attracts all sorts, a Celtic lothario as it were.’
‘A ladies man then?’ I asked, and she obviously noticed the tone in my voice, even if I hadn’t intended it to be there in the first place. She smiled at me knowingly, ‘you won’t mind soon, I assure you.’
‘Hey, think it’s almost time to go in!’ Sheamus said, jumping up again, ‘they are opening the doors, quick or we will miss the good seats.’
‘The seats are all the same really,’ Samantha sighed, ‘the acoustics in there are perfect, wherever you are.’
‘But a good view as well never hurts, now does it!’ Sheamus enthused, ‘come on let's get to the door.’
Sure enough, just as the four of us reached the door, two of the gaunt men in the blazers pushed the large double doors open and revealed a short, dark corridor. Samantha ushered us through as the waiting crowds started to move up behind us.
The corridor wound round on itself quickly and opened up into what must have been one of the best-kept secrets in London. The theatre we had just walked into wasn’t the largest by any stretch of the imagination, but it was as opulent a scene as I had ever seen. Everything was ornate and looked antique. The seats were wide and deep, set in finely studded leather and looked incredibly comfortable. Dozens of extremely expensive looking chandeliers above us cast the scene in a wonderfully old fashioned glow. They appeared to be using actual candles, I couldn't even begin to imagine how much of a pain it would have been to light them all.
The floors, walls and stage all looked to be of the finest mahogany, and there were intricately carved with symbols, insignias and what appeared to be a mix of Latin and a language I didn't recognise. There were strange gargoyles and statues in almost every nook and cranny of the theatre.
There were more gaunt men in blue blazers inside and they directed us to seats at the front. Sheamus seemed pleased with himself, ‘See, told you I would get you the best seats in the house my beauty.’ He said to his companion as we took our seats in front of the stage.
The theatre filled up surprisingly quickly, and everyone found a place to sit. I craned my neck round to look around a little and couldn't see a single empty seat. ‘I guess it’s a sell out then?’ I whispered to Samantha.
‘It always is’ she smiled.
Then the light faded, almost as if a gust of wind had blown out all those candles, as if impossibly on cue. The theatre was shrouded in darkness. I looked up, thinking I must have been wrong about them being candles. They were certainly realistic if they weren’t, must have been gas or something I remember thinking to myself. I think that was the last mundane thought I have ever had.
A hush fell across the crowd as a woman cloaked all in white entered the scene from behind the long red velvet curtain. Taking slow, but long, strides she made her way to the centre of the stage. She was no more than a few feet away from us. She bowed graciously to the crowd and drew back the hood of her cloak to reveal long, straight red hair that fell down below her waist.
Samantha leant over and placed her hand in mine as the woman on the stage started to sing.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“..and that was the last I remember.” Daniel said, ending his tale.
“Until when? Did you sleep with the punk chick?”
“I think so, like I said I can’t remember. I woke up the next morning in my apartment, naked in my bed alone. The only evidence that I hadn't imagined the whole affair was her t-shirt. The one she had been wearing the night before was neatly folded over the chair by the door. Not another sign of her.”
“You don’t remember shagging her? How much did you have to drink? You Seem to remember the rest ok, from what you said.”
“It wasn’t the drink, it was the song.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you get it? The song is what makes me happy, I have been happy since that night. Can’t get sad even if I try.”
“Even not being able to remember a night of passion with a cute punk chick?”
Daniel laughed, “even not being able to remember a night of passion, no. I can’t be sad.”
“Even when United lose?”
“Even when they lose. When they lose I delight in the fact they attempted to win.”
“Which is most of the time,” I sighed. “So you are telling me you have never been sad since that night?”
Daniel shook his head and took a sip from his drink.
“You think it was hypnosis of some kind?”
Daniel just looked up from his glass and smiled, “That would be a crazy thing to think wouldn’t it?”
“You are the one who just told me that listening to a single song made you feel endlessly happy for the best part of two decades!”
“I did, didn't I?” he grinned, “although I don’t think it was just a single song, while there was no start and no end that I can recall, it was most definitely a whole concert, it’s not something you can put into words.”
He looked wistfully into his pint glass and swirled the end of his drink around the glass slowly, “I don’t think it was a spell, more that it opened my eyes to the fact that the song is all around us, everyday, the world itself and everything that happens are just the notes, chords and melodies. I still hear the music.”
He paused and looked up at me again before continuing, “I still see her face framed by the red hair and the white dress, but I couldn’t for the life of me describe to you what she looked like or what that dress was like aside from the fact it was white…but everyday, without fail her face appears to me.”
I was conscious of raising an eyebrow in his direction and Daniel smiled and chuckled softly, almost to himself. “That did sound all very ‘new age’ didn’t it,” he quipped, “can’t say I blame you my friend.”
“Look, its not that I don’t get the point, it’s just that…”
He put down the glass and laughed the type of laugh that you usually reserve for one of those spontaneous moments of hilarity, “Look, I don’t expect you to say anything, or to believe me, except in so far as you know me, and like everyone else, think that my outlook on life is not normal.”
“I don’t think you are mad or delusional or anything,” I interrupted defensively, “I don’t want you to think that. I just…I mean, even you have to accept this isn’t something you tell someone and expect them to accept at face value?”
“Well, no, I don’t think so.”
There was an awkward silence as the smiling barmaid cleared the empty glasses from the table and smiled in Daniel’s direction. He nodded a half smile back at her before turning to me again.
‘Anyway, now I have told you that story, what do you think about coming as my guest to a concert tonight?’