Voltarol - related music

Monday, 2 March 2009

Music in a jugular vein 5

The usually placid Mr Murfet in pipe and concertina mode

This is part five of the Jugular Vein story. New readers start here.

Bandbox Barry - Super Fan

Despite the antics described in the previous posting we were in fact very serious about making good music, and all the nonsense would have been to no avail unless we had the content to back it up. It was the combination of the two elements that got us increasing amounts of work, but it was the shenanigans that drew our first major fan to us, as sure as eggs is eggs. I say ‘fan’, but with hindsight I suspect that ‘stalker’ might have been nearer the mark.

He answered to the name of ‘Band Box Barry’ – we never did find out his real name – and he began to show up at every gig we played. We very quickly moved from delight in having an enthusiastic follower to a feeling of dread on hearing the cry of ‘A la Musica!’ with which he would announce his presence in the audience. He invariably wore a blazer and a bow tie and, sometimes, spats and correspondent shoes. He had a beard, a fruity voice and a false tooth which he would frequently remove and drop into ones beer. He habitually addressed one by such anachronisms as ‘Old Fruit’, ‘Old Thing’, ‘Old Horse’ and ‘Old Chap’ and generally carried on as if we were living in the nineteen-twenties rather than the nineteen-sixties, despite the fact that he was probably no older than we were.

One of his many annoying characteristics was a positively pathological addiction to practical jokes. Woe betides the person foolish enough to accept a cigarette from him. Both Max and I were roll-up smokers at this time, and would frequently smoke on stage (if not called upon to blow something, that is). Band Box Barry would catch ones eye from the audience and mime rolling a cigarette and bringing it to the stage. We both got caught by exploding fags at least twice over a period of six months or so.

Barry would come and sit with us during intermissions, and was so thick skinned that no amount of ‘go forth and multiply’ instructions had any effect on him. He would just shrug, draw his shoulders back in a mime of being affronted and bray “I say you fellows! Have a beastly heart!” (or words to that effect) and then make himself comfortable at our table. The truth was that – for all the dash that he cut – he was a somewhat pathetic figure and we all felt rather sorry for him, although that pity was frequently stretched to near breaking point by some of his antics.

As well as the exploding cigarettes he also had a fondness for food dye, and it was not at all unusual to find oneself drinking a green pint. We finally put a stop to this by dying his gin and tonic blue one night, having first forewarned the people around us whilst he was visiting the gents. When he returned to the table and picked up his drink, he shouted in annoyance and drew attention to his blue drink. Everyone present managed to keep a straight face whilst denying that the gin was anything other than gin-coloured. If it had been just us denying it he would have seen through the ruse straight away, but the fact that apparent strangers were giving him the same reaction actually shook him and he was very subdued for the rest of the evening. Again, with hindsight, I suspect that his grip on his own sanity was more than a little fragile, but at the time we just chalked it up as a small victory.

On another occasion he turned up at a gig we were doing somewhere on the other side of London. We were somewhat surprised to see him as one of the few things we did know about him was that he lived near Heston – our side of the river. (The other two things that we knew were (1) that he had switched his allegiance to The Jugular Vein after falling out with his previous band of choice – Spencer’s Washboard Kings (still active today as Spencer's Nighthawks) and (2) that he described himself as a ‘Transparent Wall Maintenance Engineer’ – it transpired that he was in fact a self employed window cleaner.)

During the course of this particular evening he was on especially irritating form and back to all his old habits. Cigarettes exploded, beer turned green or acquired false teeth and we were ‘A la musica’d and ‘Old Bean’ed to near breaking point. The last straw came at the end of the gig when he announced that he was in need of a lift home as he had missed his transport connection. Now, Muff was (and remains) one of the most gentle and affable fellows that you could wish to meet but he had reached near-breaking point. Through gritted teeth he informed Band Box Barry that we would give him a lift but that if he (Band Box) so much as opened his mouth then he (Muff) would not be answerable for his actions.

We stocked up with a few cans of beer for the journey, climbed into the back of the van and set off for home. We had barely travelled a hundred yards or more when Band Box Barry piped up. “The thing is, old bean…” Muff paused with a freshly opened can half way to his lips. “If you call me ‘Old Bean’ one more time, I swear I’ll brain you with this bloody can!” he spat. “I say! Steady on old bean!” said Band Box, but he got no further because a furious Mr Murfet reached across and, with great vigour, carried out his threat. “Nobby! Stop the bloody van! He’s out. Now!” he shouted, as he grabbed our unfortunate fan and attempted to drag him to the back door of the vehicle.

Eventually we managed to calm Muff down and made Band Box Barry go and sit in the front of the van, with the warning that if he so much as uttered a single syllable before we reached his home, we would abandon him in the middle of the road regardless of where we were. The result was that our unwanted passenger managed to complete the journey in silence, and we did not see him again at a gig for quite a long time.

When he finally materialised again he was a much-subdued figure, looked quite haggard and had lost a considerable amount of weight. At first we felt quite guilty to have wrought quite such a change on him but we eventually discovered that he had just spent the last six months in an open prison, where his antics had been received considerably less warmly by the prison inmates than they had been by the band. Apparently, whilst on his window-cleaning round one day, he had spotted some 78 r.p.m. gramophone records through an open upstairs window. Unable to resist the temptation to have a closer look he had climbed off his ladder and in through the window. Unfortunately he was spotted and the police were called and he ended up inside.

Whatever it was that drew him to the band had obviously evaporated during his time away from us, and we did not see him again after that until, many years later I was watching The Last Night of the Proms on TV when I spotted a familiar face amongst the promenaders. The camera had zoomed in on a group of people hanging a garland of some sort around a statue. “…and as the young fans, led by Barry ------- (something I didn’t quite catch), a trainee dress designer from West London, decorate the bust of Sir Henry Wood with the traditional wreath we see…” I thought, at one point during the proceedings, that I heard a voice crying “A la Musica!”, but I might have imagined it.