Wednesday evening, ten past nine. A draughty church hall in north London and the band are experiencing artistic differences.
“I am not singing that song and if you don’t like it you can shove it up your arse.”
Bridie is 24 years old, small and skinny with freckles and a mass of wiry red hair which she normally wears, as now, tied back in a rigid bunch. On stage she lets it loose and it flies around her head like a halo of fire. Her voice can sound as pure and clear as a cathedral choirboy’s or it can blister paint. At the moment she is in blowtorch mode.
“Bridie, it’s a great song.”
“It’s the kind of thing the men sing in Ireland to make themselves feel like romantic heroes instead of the sadistic morons they really are. Simon, you’re not going to make us do this shit, surely?”
“Jesus Simon, what is this?”
I can see why Steve wants to sing it. He has the brooding glamour of the black Celt and he can probably already picture himself in a lager advert on TV, epitome of New York Irish cool. In fact, he comes from Kent and as far as I know his family have been hop growers for five generations. A nice tenor voice with a good range and not a bad guitarist. Not a great one.
Bridie is different. Her parents both came from Northern Ireland, mother Catholic, father Protestant. The threats started a week after they met and they left the country after her father had two ribs broken on his own doorstep. Bridie was born and brought up in Cornwall and none of the family has ever been back.
I feel old. Come to think of it, I am old compared with these two. Old enough to be the father of either of them. But only just. Len, the drummer and even older than I am, catches my expression over Bridie’s shoulder and crosses his eyes briefly. Been there, done that. When can we go to the pub? Ian, the fifth member of the band, fiddles with something electronic attached to his keyboard, not even listening.
“That’s enough. Calm down the pair of you. You’re right Steve, it is a great song.” The beginning of a smirk on his face. Out of the corner of my eye I see Bridie take a breath. “But Bridie’s right too, we can’t do it.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” He takes half a dozen strides down the hall, swinging his guitar as if he is about to throw it. But he doesn’t, I notice.
“Steve, if you want to do a rebel song there are plenty to choose from. I saw a couple of guys do one about Monmouth the other day. By the end of it half the audience wanted to go out and grab a pitchfork.”
“Nobody’s ever heard of Monmouth except a handful of sad old folkies.”
“I think that’s Bridie’s point. The beatings are still going on in Ulster, whatever the politicians say. Irish rebel songs are too current. Find something that’s been… defused.”
“What, like she’s defused you? With a quick shag?”
I’ll throttle the bastard, I tell myself. Funeral thoughts have given my temper an edge. No, he’s bigger than me and half my age. But I’ll bloody throttle him anyway. Steve steps back. I could swear that he looks frightened.
“Actually, it’s at least six months since Simon and I last slept together.”
There is a snort of laughter from behind the drum kit, where Len is bending down to adjust one of the pedals. Thank you Bridie. I knew I could rely on your support.
When it turns out your brother was a bastard, do you still love him? Unfortunately, yes.
Simon Coltraine is a professional songwriter and musician. His brother Giles – market trader, rogue and amiable bully – is a small-time crook. When Giles is killed in what appears to be a car accident Simon returns to their childhood home to confront his memories.
The Devil has all the best tunes.
Cold Hillside links the sunlit sweep of England’s West Country landscapes with the grubby shadows of London’s Kentish Town Road.