Luke Sky: guitar and vocals
Mulligan: Bass and synth
Dik Davis: Drums
Band meeting, Birmingham, England – July 1978
Mulligan, dyed platinum dreadlocks flying behind him like jet stream, bursts into the room.
“The Cla …. The Cla … The Cla…” He pants.
“You’ve got the clap?” Dik asks.
“What, again?” I add.
“No … The Cla ….”
“You really should cut down on the fags you know.”
“No stamina these keyboard players.” I tell Dik “What do you expect though? They just stand there all night.”
“The sodding Clash!” Mulligan explodes.
“Congratulations. A complete sentence. Sort of.”
“I knew he could do it.”
“WE’VE GOT A GIG WITH THE CLASH!”
“It’s those night school classes he’s been – WHAT!? What did you just say?”
Mulligan has got his breath back. He sniffs and turns his back.
“Never mind never mind, arse face, what did you just say?” Dik demands.
“Come on Jon. What? A gig? With The Clash? You’re kidding, right? Like that time you told us your granddad was a captain in the IRA.”
“I’m not telling you now.” Mulligan sulks, but I can see malicious glee is all but straightening his dreadlocks.
“What we need in a situation like this is a manager.” I say, “So we’d know what’s going on.”
“Or a swift knee in the bollocks.” Dik says.
“Oh, alright then. I was in town and I ran into Corky. He needs a band this Saturday to open for The Clash at Barbarellas. He said we could do it if we want.”
“If we bleedin’ well want to?!” I’m hopping around the room like a totem pole on the loose.
“Hang on,” Dik says, “It’s Friday today innit. That means, tomorrow night?”
“Yeah.” Mulligan says, “You aren’t busy are you? Washing your pubes or anything?”
“Right after the gig Jon, that’s precisely what I plan on doing.” Dik says. “Right, rehearsal tonight men. There’s gonna be some skankin’ white men in Barbarellas tomorrow night!”
The rehearsal is absolutely terrible, Nobody’s mind is on what they’re doing. We’re all time traveling forward to sharing a dressing room and then a stage with Joe Strummer and his pals. I forget the words and try to make up for it by playing chords that have no business being anywhere near a guitar neck. Mulligan’s synth plays itself when it feels like it, mostly between numbers, and it’s only the relentless fury of Dik’s drumming that occasionally holds the whole thing together. Not that he sees it that way.
“I can’t decide whether I sound like I’m building a bloody shed or pushing a suit of armor down our cellar stairs.” he says.
“Oh shut up, you tart. This is the third string I’ve broken this afternoon. And what the sodding hell is up with that bloody Wasp Jon?”
“I think it’s lonely.” Mulligan says, and as if in agreement the black and yellow, touch-sensitive keyboard lets out a sad, dribbling sounds not unlike a farting badger being blown off a cliff.
“Well lads,” Miki says, “You know what they say, lousy rehearsal, brilliant gig.”
“So on the strength of today we’ll blow The Clash offstage then.” I say.
“Here, here big nose,” Dik says, “a bit less of the blasphemy if you don’t mind. Strummer be his name.”
I’m at home practicing for when we’re on Top of the Pops, skank dancing in front of the wardrobe mirror, miming to Product Perfect. The neighbors are probably banging on the wall but I can’t hear them. I ponder the eternal question, if a neighbor knocks on the wall but there’s no guitarist around to hear it, is he still making too much noise?
Then I decide more important matters are in need of my attention. I bring my Technofascist Doc Martens to a halt, set the John Birch custom on its stand, and go into the kitchen to get the boot polish and my brush. The docs are going to be polished to mirror-finish tonight. There’s a knock on the back door and it topples into the kitchen. I really must get around to rehanging it on its hinges sometime – that was some party though. So they tell me. Dik comes into the room like Taz off the Bugs Bunny show, a whirlwind of hair, knuckles, drumsticks and invective. He pirouettes to a halt in the middle of the floor and lets out a bellow of rage.
“Nice of you to pop round.” I spit on the toe of my left Doc and attack it with the brush.
“That wanker! I’ll bleedin’ swing for him, I swear I will! He’s only pulled us.”
“Pulled us?” I’m not really listening. I often don’t.
“Corky. From the gig tonight.”
His voice sinks to a low growl filled with the promise of extremely painful retribution.
“He’s pulled us and put those New York poufters Suicide in our place. I’m gonna-“
“-please. Spare me the details. They can’t be any worse than the ones I’m thinking.”
Mulligan creeps into the kitchen. He looks like some severely depressed Revlon field mouse who’s lost his tea party.
“We have to do something.” I declare.
Mulligan digs in his jumpsuit pocket and pops a handful of small purple pills into his mouth.
“I’ll put the kettle on.” I say.
“It won’t fit. And besides, it doesn’t go with your eyes.” Miki has trailed in behind Mulligan. He lights a B&H, so he now has one in each hand.
As Mulligan subsists almost entirely on a diet of toast and pills it only takes about ten minutes for the purple hearts to gallop through his empty stomach into his blood stream. Somewhere around my second cup of tea, his head snaps up.
“Bollocks to ‘em.” He says, “we’ll do a gig anyway. Our own gig.”
“Great idea, Jon. I mean it’s not as if anyone’s going to Barbs tonight to see The Clash is it. They’ll all need something to do.”
“No, come on. Sod this for a game of tinnies. It’s us against the world, right?”
“Apparently.” Dik mumbles, but then he gets a sudden devilish look on his face. “Jon’s right. Us against the world. Come on lanky, shake a leg, we’ve got a gig to organize.
I’m standing with Miki at the back doors of the van. He’s just driven it over the pedestrian-only little humpback bridge outside the main entrance to The Canon Hill Arts Center. No trolls were harmed in the parking of this van.
“Barbarella’s has changed a bit then.” Miki observes. B&H smoke swirls around him like Sherlockian fog.
“Yes,” he says, unraveling the electric cable holding the back doors of the van closed, “it’s amazing what a dab of paint and turfing over Broad Street can do for a club’s ambiance.”
“We’ll be needing a bleedin’ ambulance if you don’t shut it.”
“Oh yeah? You and who’s army sunshine?”
Mulligan bursts out of the arts center doors and hares towards the van.
“His.” I say.
“Oooh, you big butch cowboy, you know I love it when you talk dangerous.”
“Alright chaps?” Mulligan wants to know.
“Just fine and dandy.” I say with a face as long as the line currently winding its way round Barbarellas to see The Clash.
“How you are adjusting to life in the army Mulligan?” Miki asks him but Mulligan has already learned to disregard the more surreal of Miki’s questions. Which is most of them, then.
“Let’s get in and get set up.” Mulligan says and then I need you to take me back to my place please Miki. With the van. To pick up a few things.
I stand and marvel at the stage, upon which sits a good deal of Mulligan’s flat. There’s the sculpture from the bog, the one that always confuses me as to where I’m supposed to piss. His biggest paintings are strung from invisible cables so that the minotaur on the black and white checkered floor looks as if he’s about to step over and adjust the stack of televisions. There are ten television stacked on a board that’s balanced on the backs of a couple of female shop window dummies posed down on their hands and knees. All very Korova milkbar, I’m sure.
Dik’s standing onstage wielding the mystic Premier drum key and doing mysterious things only drummers pretend to understand to the 3-D jigsaw puzzle of his kit. There are a couple of motorbikes parked either end of the stage. Center stage, a large white screen is silently showing one of those old black and white French films, all full of rotting dog carcasses, eyeballs being sliced by razor blades, and other things the French think of as art.
Then those two thin white dukes in trench coats I’d met last week at Mulligans walk onstage, and start setting up a couple of amps and a keyboard. What were they called again?
“Duran Duran.” Mulligan says coming up behind me and making me jump.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“They’re going to open the show for us. That’s their screen and projector.
“Very multi-media, I’m sure. Where’s Miki?”
“Up the village. In the pubs, trying to get a few punters down the hill.” He tugs a pocket watch from his jacket pocket, “He should be back in a minutes, then we’ll do sound checks. I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make” And he rushes off like a dreadlocked white rabbit.
Afterwards, how did I feel about the show: Fashion and Duran Duran at The Cannon Hill Arts Center on that night in July of 1978? We’re helping hump Mulligan’s furniture and artwork back into his flat around about half past midnight? And I’m surprised to find I actually ended up having a great time. I managed to shake off the depression of losing what would have been at that time the most important gig I’d ever played.
I’d actually quite enjoyed Duran Duran – they were a bit synthy and drum machiney, but they had a few other good songs as well as that Girls On Film we’d heard on their demo tape. They were a bit funky in places, that John could play bass by slapping it with his thumb which is quite impressive, then again, I am easily impressed. Add in Nick’s synths meeps and warbles, and decent singer in Andy Wickett, and their set had seemed a good enough soundtrack for the black and white arty, Frech films they’d projected behind them.
And whereas there were only about 50 people in the whole 200-seater theatre, I did actually manage to get into our songs. We played a tight set, twisting and dipping, roaring and whooshing, in all the right places, all the right notes in the right order sort of thing. I completely forgot where I was, and why I was there, and those 50 punters must have picked up on that because they did a Dr. Who Tardis number on the theater, and somehow seemed to fill the place. It was only our eighth gig and despite the circumstances it felt like progress.
I’m tired, sweaty and almost happy as we unload the gear back into Mulligan’s flat.
“Help me get the sculpture back in the bog.” Mulligan says.
“Good idea.” I say “I’m dying for a slash.”