One of the few things I’ve missed is a good 6-Nations Saturday. The ritual of starting the day with a big breakfast before heading for a fire-warmed pub to review the rugby pages with a few mates till the first game of the afternoon begins…..with a Guinness or two.
Instead I had to make do. The chores were done and the afternoon set aside to watch Scotland v Italy, glass of red wine and a little cheese for company as we (me and the cheese) huddled round the little gas heater in front of the T.V.
3.30pm and I rubbed my hands as much against the cold as the prospect of a long awaited Scottish victory. The teams trotted out and lined up for the anthems, the first lungful of bagpipe lifting the hairs on the back of my neck. I felt suddenly homesick.
Shrill ring of phone interrupts
“Who can that be? Do I answer?” Sighing as I turn down the volume, I pick up the handset. “Pronto”.
“Hi Charles, It’s Sergio.” (master instrument maker from Scilla)
“Sergio, what’s up?”
“Are you still selling your bass amp?”
“Well, yes, I haven’t got round to putting it on the internet, why?”
“I’ve got a client here in the workshop who might be interested, do you mind if I give him your number?”
“No, not at all..go for it.”
I put the phone down rather abruptly as out of the corner of my eye I had just seen a rare Scottish score. Maybe this was good karma. I tensed again (you can never relax watching Scotland). Ten minutes later I was beginning to warm up as much as the game when…..Shrill ring of phone interrupts.
I sigh again. The number on the display is not allocated to anyone I know. Do I ignore or not? I mean, I can always call back later. I gave in and answered. “Pronto.”
“Excuse me but my name is Pasquale, Sergio in Scilla gave me your number. Can you talk?”
I really didn’t want to as the crowd were going mad in Edinburgh and I so wanted to join them.
“Yea, what can I do for you Pasquale?”
“You have a bass amp for sale, is there a possibility I can have a look at it?”
“Yes, of course, when were you thinking?”
“Well, now if that’s possible. We’re already in Pellaro.”
My jaw dropped. I screwed up my face in angst as I found myself suddenly confronted by the worst possible dilemma for a Scot. On one hand a very real chance of a very rare rugby victory, on the other…..cash! The words ‘iron’ and ‘hot’ sprang to mind as I pondered.
“Hello, hello?” said the voice on the phone….”Are you still there?”
I came back to my senses and responded reluctantly, yea sure he could view the amp. After all how long would it take and I would probably catch all of the second half.
Pellaro is a small place so it was hardly surprising when a few minutes later I was dragging myself to answer a knock on the front door. What was surprising however, was the very large grey moustache that was waiting on the other side of the threshold. I stepped aside as it manoeuvred its way slowly into the living room. I was staring at the shiny dome of a bald topped head with what looked like a curtain of long hair that had slipped down a few inches from its proper position. So surprised was I, that I very nearly shut the door in the faces of the three very elderly-looking gentlemen that had just struggled up the stairs and were now catching their collective breath on the balcony.
“Er, come in.” I beckoned, half looking over their shoulders for a line of waiting zimmer frames. The rugby was still very much on my mind and my composure was being sorely tested by the roar of the crowd at Murrayfield stadium.
“Well this is it.” I said indicating the amp in the corner. After untying themselves from a variety of sound cables and managing to hang my bass guitar over Pasquale’s creaking neck….they plugged in. The room shook for a few minutes while he pounded the strings, things started shaking on the table and my father-in-law was woken from his siesta in the house below. Pasquale stopped. “Does it go any louder?”
“Louder!” Yes, of course but….” I was tempted to check if he’d switched his hearing aid on.
“Well what do think?” I said getting a little impatient.
“Would you mind if we tried it out with the band?” Band! I thought. I’d imagined this was to be a gift for some lucky grandchild, not a band with an average age of eighty.
With some reluctance I gave up on the idea of seeing out the rugby and helped them lug the gear down to a row of waiting cars and followed them to their rehearsal room which they told me was just down the road in Lazzaro. When we arrived at the agreed meeting point (The Hunter’s Cafe) I got out and looked around. I could see nothing that resembled a practice studio.
“This way” said the ‘boys’.
We staggered (literally) down a few steps towards the beach and turned towards a large steel door that had been hidden from the road. As we carried the amp into the room I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was huge! Charlie Watt’s uncle was setting up a drum kit to one side and a little head was bobbing around behind a bank of keyboards whilst a middle aged woman prepared coffee and Limoncello (was this the groupie?). The Four Tops put the amp into position in the heart of the great room and argued about what cable should go where. I looked around in awe. I was in an Aladin’s Cave of classic instruments and hi-tech performance. Beside the large EV speakers and digital mixing consol lay an array of collector guitars and original amps. A ’61 Telecaster, a ’67 Strat, a worn left-hand Les Paul (that was strangely played right-handed later) and a bank of amps that would provide collateral on any new Hard Rock Cafe enterprise. It dawned on me that these were the guitars and amps they’d bought when they were in their early teens. For them it was just their ‘axes’…..for me it was a very expensive museum of the most desirable instruments I’d ever seen in one place.
All thought of the rugby had evaporated…..I had been transported into another age. Only problem was, I couldn’t work out if it was the future or the past.
When they counted 1,2,3, 4….there were at least 9 musicians hitting the beat. Santana. Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Albert King, Garry Moore……They rocked!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes, nor my ears. The lead guitarist, whose hands had been shaking Parkinson’s style minutes before, had become one with the fret-board, the drummer had gone from unsteady to rock-steady and even the singer who looked as if he was hanging onto the mic stand, more as a means of support, was managing to do a mean version of Ian Gillan….even if his glasses kept slipping off his nose during the chorus.
The rehearsal finished about 7.00pm and I’d even forgotten why I was there. It wasn’t till one of the roadies asked me to help carry the meat for the traditional BBQ-after-practice that I thought to ask if Pasquale liked the amp enough to part with some dough. “Great he said. Would I mind taking the money in instalments?” By this time it seemed churlish to refuse. They had been getting me cunningly drunk with local wine and great music.
I had to decline the tempting food as I had to go and collect Maria from Reggio but I took up their offer of going back any weekend…..sing for your supper they say. I have since been back and had enormous fun jamming with these guys and I’ve learnt a great truth…..
Here’s the thing. When you put an instrument round your neck and step up to the microphone, the years just roll away and you’re young again. The secret of long life is bop till you drop!