My youngest son, Peter Page-Roberts, is a musician. He is a guitarist and composer. His oeuvre consists of beautiful instrumental music and cutting-edge songs that comment on life and society. But for a while now his musical interests have been directed to Rock music.
Being a musician with free-ranging musical interests does not go far to help him pay the rent. So his day job starts very early in the morning, and ends in time for him to devote the remaining hours of the day and evening to playing his several stringed instruments and composing. This, with modern technology, means that he can play everything that a band plays, sing, and put it all together as if many musicians (with his own mind) were involved. Thus, he chooses to be a postman/musician.
In bands, Pete is the bass player.
The latest group that he is part of is called NEON DIAMOND, and they play mainly in the peripheral districts of London. So, although we would like to see them perform, Margreet and I find ourselves unable to cope with the late nights and difficult travel arrangements, especially to and from the often rougher parts of the capital.
But an 8.30 pm, one evening in July 2007, a Neon Diamond gig came up at the PURPLE TURTLE on a direct bus route from where we live. So off we went (with me making fatuous remarks about needing ear plugs) to the venue at Mornington Crescent, near Camden in north/north east London.
We had arrived early on purpose to be able to eat in that part of town – choosing a very busy pub with food on offer.
The beer was good, the red wine indifferent, and the food, after a ¾ of an hour wait, so bad that it bordered on disgusting. It was the kind of English grub that I was under the impression had disappeared from the scene some 20 to 30 years ago.
Outside the venue we could just hear that the first of three bands were in action.
Once through the first of two glass doors I paid the very modest entry fee, with a pound knocked off because of our presenting a promotion flyer. But already, because of the noise, I was unable to hear all of the entry transaction. So that most of it was conducted in sign language.
Inside the second door we were hit by the full blast from drummer, guitarists and singer at full belt and maximum volume. It was deafening, but exciting.
The stage, floor, bar, sound and light control cabin, and anti-chamber with pin ball machine, was a dark and cosy delight, lit by coloured spotlights, and conducive to music, drink and friendship.
We were already enjoying ourselves as we ordered drinks with shouting and sign language, and by offering a handful of money from which the barmaid extracted the correct amount.
The band concluded their performance to applause that sounded as nothing in comparison with the noise that they had just been producing.
The musicians disconnected their instruments from the electronics, packed away their kit slowly, and were either on their way or staying to become audience.
Rock is clearly sideline music. These were top groups. But their audience was made up mainly of their devoted followers and other Rock musicians. Most of the coming and going audience seemed to either know each other or were aware of each other’s musical reputation. Relationships were friendly ones. There was considerable camaraderie evident.
The audience and players were made up of real characters – each worth more than a glance.
The older, middle-aged ones were men with portly bellies, wearing short trousers, and with long hair, beards and pale faces – old rockers. They looked a bit as though they had just dismounted from their Harley-Davidsons before coming in to lap up the music.
Girls tended to be striking, slim and dressed as Goths, clad in black, and sometimes with the adornment of jangly, flashing and studded bits.
Two of the girls were notable. One, a tiny waif of stick-thin femininity with red top and torn jeans, stood throughout on the centre of the floor, motionless, with a pint of beer in her hands, transfixed by the bands and their music.
The other, with long blonde hair, and dressed in what remained of a pair of jeans, and wearing a jacket with copious additions that caught and reflected the coloured lights, which flashed as she moved, seemed to act quite normally between the spates of music. But as the bands blared forth, she was overtaken by some internal dervish, throwing herself into convulsions, twisting and tossing her head and hair in abandonment, and prancing about the floor (later in a diaphanous pink top), high kicking like some Austrian performing horse.
There was a gap in time before the Neon Diamond group was to perform. So the members of the band went about their pre-music chores, plugging in and tuning up – all to the loud, recorded music, controlled by the man in the black control booth.
The players positioned a supply of liquid refreshment where it could be reached easily between “songs”. Then they formed up and were off.
Mark Thorn, the lead vocalist and front man, with or without guitar in hand, belted out voice and music, accompanied by much jumping and stamping. He was impressive.
The lead guitarist, Lenny Stella, from Italy, played in his own self-contained, enveloping cocoon at the side of the stage, sometimes shirted and sometimes shirtless, and occasionally playing the guitar with his teeth. He was an act in itself, and always worth watching – and probably listened to as well, if I could only have separated the sounds one from the other.
The drummer, another Mark, wore a hat throughout (real hair underneath) as he crashed away enough to wake the dead.
And bass guitarist, Big Pete, tall, willowy, elegant and much tattooed (the only member with shortish hair) stood almost still in comparison with the others as he played his guitar, legs akimbo - the cool one.
So they performed their numbers at maximum volume and velocity, to the highest number of spectators, until the conclusion, with clapping, cheers and whistles (Margreet having the loudest one). (She was later to be dubbed “The Rock and Roll Mum.)
Then the band disconnected their instruments to make way for the next group. Margreet and I were then able to meet with the Neon Diamond crew for a drink – though I only wish I could have heard what they had to say above the general din. What was uncanny was that they seemed to all be able to understand what each was saying, when, to me, the voices were completely lost.
We left, partly deafened, to say goodbye to those inside, and others, dragging on their cigarettes, outside on the pavement.
Except for hearing my voice bouncing around inside my eardrums throughout the following day, I could easily become hooked on Rock music – a sort of musical violence in a friendly atmosphere.
Perhaps I should grow my hair long, study with a dervish, wear a pink diaphanous blouse, and take dancing lessons from a prancing horse in Austria.