A Malefactory Musical in Punk Prose
Backstage: The walls trembled and shook with the sound of the bands’ sound stacks.
Wayne Pengwern leaned against the wall and then jerked back from the awful slickness. “Oh, man that’s gross, it’s like the wall’s sweating,” he moaned as he pulled himself away.
“It ain’t the wall that’s sweating, you know,” Joffrey Oberwulf told him, “That’s just condensation from all the people breathing, and sweating so hard, out where it’s hot. Back here is cool, and it just—”
“There goes the Killswitch again, why do you do that? One little metaphor and you have to go literal on it,” Wayne complained.
“Dunno, just seems stupid, when you know what’s really happening, was all I was saying,” Joffrey grumbled, “Sorry, man. I guess I just don’t get all that poetry and lyrical stuff.”
“Yeah well, shut it then. Anyway, what do you reckon to that sound system ‘The Air-raiders’ have got themselves? Pretty awesome sounding, innit?” Wayne said.
“It’s rattling at sixty Hertz. I think they’ve split one of those cones in the bass bins. That’s not going to happen with the kit we have. No way it can happen. Those Blaupunkt cats really knew what they were doing when they designed our system; at least once, I fixed the mistake. No moving parts, just pneumatic over-pressure and vibration, that’s why we are going to kick their ass.”
“Do you mean, arse?” Rik Fermi asked spinning a drumstick around his fingers. “Or do they actually have a donkey we can kick? I like the new name though, Killswitch, that sounds better than Joffrey to me.”
Joffrey grinned, “Get bent — actually, you’re right: ‘Killswitch Oberwulf’ does sound wicked-cool.”
“Just like ‘Rik’ sounds better than Dick Fermi, right?” Chaz leapt in with a dark grin, “although I would still prefer to call myself Charles instead of Chaz, the way you say it makes it rhyme with Scum.”
“Far too posh,” Rik declared.
“Hey, I like that though, Scum Duxton, that’s pretty sweet,” laughed Wayne.
“Fine — whatever — you know what they like better than me. Oh, try to remember the second key change in ‘Machine-head’ tonight Wayne. Sounds great when we are all playing the same thing, but if you forget to move to that major, it drops the rest of us out in some crazy diminished seventh that I have to try and cover,” the newly named Scum pointed out.
Rik agreed, “Yeah, watch those changes, it sounds naff when all you have to do is follow Killswitch’s root notes.”
The artists formerly known as Joffrey and Charles nodded.
Wayne rolled his eyes, putting his hands up, “Alright, alright, you might need to remind me, though, cuz it’s the same bleeding root, it’s only the third that’s different, and I’ve been playing the same thing for the previous two bars. It’s a stupid change, and a daft time for it, but okay.”
“Great, oh and let’s try and not solo tonight, any of you. We’re meant to be a band tonight, so let’s leave the impromptu solos and improvised jazz out tonight, eh? Just some hard-core punk and metal vibes, cut back and clean, yeah?” Rik finished, getting eye contact, and complicit agreement. “We’re not a bleeding prog-rock band.”
“Five minutes, boys,” a back-stage runner called around the door.
She was cute, dressed all in black with a wireless headset (that kept her in contact with the stage manager) perched over a blonde ponytail.
“Sure thing, Imogen,” Wayne smiled, puppy-eyed, at her.
She raised an eyebrow at him, and smiled at Joffrey, “You need to go and plug in your audio weaponry? Remember keep it limited, we agreed, right? I can take you now, if you’d like.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Joffrey leaned himself up, picked up his guitar, and followed her out.
Wayne sulked obviously.
Rik punched him, “Cheer up Wayne, nerd girls like nerds, naughty girls like everyone.”
Wayne snorted and grinned, “Yeah, yeah you’re right, Rik. Come on, let’s get this show on.”
Off-Prompt side of Stage: They found their way to the tab curtains that shrouded the proscenium arch of the theatre.
The stage thumped with the punk sounds of the ‘Losers’. Their vocalist (singer would be going too far), Vendetta Spittle, screamed and yelled her half-rhymed lyrics at the bouncing crowd of punk punters.
The guitars clashed and squealed feedback as the band finished the song with an aerial discord.
The noise level didn’t die down as the guitars finished. They were replaced with a stomach-punching roar from the crowd.
Rik bent over next to a short guy in spiked denim, with spikier hair, and shouted something in his ear.
The guy, Mark ‘Time’, the drummer with ‘Babylon of Thirst’ nodded his response, leaning back to yell a response in Rik’s ear.
Imogen appeared from around a rear curtain, and beckoned them to follow. Their kit was set up behind the black curtain, with their own band logo pinned to the drape behind the Apolloium and Orichalcum flared trumpets and pipes of the Donderkanone.
The newly named ‘Killswitch’ was running the leads to the other guitars and the microphones, he handed Wayne and “Scum” an exposed guitar jack each. He checked the mics arranged around Rik’s drums, and then set up Wayne’s mic stand. He also pulled forward his foot-pedal controls for the German audio weapon.
The band ‘Losers’ trashed their way through a rough blues riff, and therefore almost unrecognizable version of ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ before the whine of their playing turned into the white noise of the crowd.
Killswitch grabbed his headset and ran a hand up the neck of his guitar while listening. He pointed at Wayne, who started tapping his open strings. Then he pointed to Rik who gently rippled through his drums, before dropping into a soft rhythm. Then he nudged one of the controls at his feet.
He seemed satisfied and nodded at Imogen who held up her hand, they all stopped playing.
‘Losers’ appeared around the tabs and waved and nodded to the band.
Wayne mouthed “Great set!” across the stage to Vendetta who smiled and winked.
The MC’s voice echoed behind the curtain, struggling to be heard over the crowd, “Give it up for ‘The Losers’, you gits. Yeah!”
Vendetta shot a dagger-filled stare towards the front of house.
Wayne rolled his eyes in sympathy at the misnomer, and then thought that he might have a better name for the band. He made a mental note to talk to Vendetta about it later.
Samantha gave ‘Killswitch’ the nod, and he stamped on a control. Behind the drums four panels of amber lights lit simultaneously and the stage trembled as the Donderkanone growled with power.
The MC’s voice was suddenly lifted and cast around the theatre by the audio weapon, it came from everywhere at once, as it boomed, “Next up, prepare to make your ears bleed. It’s ‘Cheirosyphon’!”
Imogen pulled on a rope and the curtains swished away, revealing the pulsing stage-lights and the howling crowd.
The theatre was filled to capacity, but the crush in the stalls made the place look half-empty as the follow-spots swept the room then locked onto the band.
Rik held his sticks aloft and the crowd roared in anticipation.
The sticks clicked, the sound cutting the air, as the Donderkanone seemed to put it everywhere in space.
Then the band started playing.
Deep, fast bass and drums, reached out into the auditorium, and grabbed fixtures and fittings, shaking them to dancing life.
Wayne stepped to his microphone stand, “’Ello my gourds, ladettes and gentlephlegm, This is Cheirosyphon, I am Wayne Pengwern, this is ‘Killswitch’ Oberwulf, ‘Scum’ Duxton and back there pedalling, Rik Fermi. We are here to make you plead, we are here to make you bleed, and this song is called ‘White Man’s Guilt’!”
The crowd leapt into the air, bouncing in time, as the two electric guitars ripped across the growling sub-sonics of the band’s one song that had ever had wireless play.
“A fella asked me what tribe was I?” Wayne murmured, his voice lifted and spread over the crowd like butter from a knife. “He said that he was born Maasai. Mzungu, what tribe are you? You don’t know, you never knew!”
Rik and Wayne shifted gear as the guitars thrashed.
“But I know,” Wayne sang, “I’m from the tribe of flags and gun thunder. The tribe of rape, the tribe of plunder. The tribe of king-makers, of gold and land takers, the tribe of scorn, the tribe of spite, the tribe of war, the tribe of fight. Child-stealers, the wheeler-dealers. Wanna buy a grandmother? We got ones to sell. You wanna be one of us? Come live a living hell. Cuz I know, I’m from the tribe of flags and gun thunder. The tribe of hate, the tribe of plunder. So fill your heart with the hate you feel, cuz we learned to kill, rape, and steal! We cunna blame you, if you hate and killed us, cuz we’re just the way our masters willed us.”
The crowd mouthed the words back as the band drowned them in music.
Twenty minutes later, dripping with sweat, they crashed through the final chords of ‘Treatise on the Inexplicable Ennui Inherent in All Souls on a Monday Morning’, Wayne’s hyper-amplified voice, shaking the building with his emotion-filled profanities.
Then, as the guitars faded into a background hum, he whispered, “Fuck you kindly, Shadies and Germs, and good night!”
‘Killswitch’ stamped his namesake and the Donderkanone’s effect collapsed away, leaving the bellow of the crowd and the stomping of their feet.
Wayne threw his ‘Cheirosyphon’ tee-shirt out into the crowd as the tabs closed.
The boys high-fived and grinned at each other.
“We friggin’ slew ‘em,” Rik yelled.
“They loved it,” Wayne grinned back.
“It was a bit loud,” ‘Scum’ said, but even he was grinning like a maniac.
“I had it limited to three, but I think we need an adjustment, perhaps I need a logarithmic scale, more variation at the bottom end, less at the top. Sweet Lizzy’s sake! Can you imagine what the ten setting must be like? We’d level a building,” Killswitch agreed, pulling the plugs and setting the audio weapon back into safe mode, as they walked off the stage and the MC announced a short bar break he added, “but they were going mental.”
Several of the other bands greeted them with high-fives and a few with grudging nods of respect.
The band began to break down their equipment. Killswitch began taking apart the Donderkanone, packing the components into the hermetic cases that he had made for it.
Wayne slid into a conversation with Vendetta Spittle and Leeroy Caesar (front man of ‘Turkish Delight’ formerly ‘The Kings’). His idea of renaming her band ‘The Misnomers’ went down like a lead balloon with Vendetta, but Leeroy loved it, they had been looking for another name since ‘The Fuc Kings’ had sold-out and been forced to drop the ‘Fuc’, they’d gone with ‘Turkish Delight’ as it was the name of their best song.
Rik wandered off to front of house, and was bought drinks by punters, amazed to see talent in the bar; a few signings and some threats were a small price to pay for free beer and whisky.
Charles ‘Scum’ Duxton helped Killswitch pack up the Donderkanone and then stood around looking spare as Imogen swooped in to congratulate and lead the guitarist away.
Charles slunk back away from the other bands, not wanting to get into some stupid political debate about how the revolution should be handled. He snorted to himself as he found his way back through the sweat-glossed corridors for the stage door. He rolled himself, and the Stage-door keeper, a cigarette each, then they stood just outside, with the door propped open on a stage weight, and lit up.
“Good set tonight, Charlie. Reminded me of when ‘Vincent and the Black Shadows’ played here in ‘71, they were strictly heavy-folk, but yow have the same energy, memorable.”
“Thanks Dave, that means a lot, cheers. The Black Shadows were awesome, shame what happened to them,” ‘Scum’ replied.
Dave the Doorman sighed, “Aye it wuz, but the signs wuz all there, they went infernal after they played here, I reckons. The management wunna hired them after they wrote ‘Devil’s Due’, not then.”
Charles sucked on his cigarette again thinking about what Dave had said, and then he replied, “They were better afterward though, weren’t they? I mean beforehand, they were writing about betrayals and murders, but after they just, like, understood what they were selling, I guess.”
“There my young friend yow has hit the centre-mass o’ the thing. Write what yow know, that’s the best anyone can do. Take your stuff, I dunna understand why yow kids swear so much, yow’ll never get a record contract, or wireless play, with that language, but I can tell yow mean every word of it.”
“Wayne doesn’t want to be a sell-out, personally I think we should be trying more — not selling-out, but you know — broadening our market, or whatever.”
“Wayne’s the singer right? Does he write all the songs?”
“He writes lyrics and bass-lines, and he rewrites at least one bass-line every time we play anything, if you take my meaning, but it is his band, he put us together, well him, an’ Rik.”
“Well, he’ll come around, they always do. Sooner or later, the bills overcome the principles. Well cheers for the fag, Charlie, but I gotta get back inside, yow coming?” Dave asked as he moved into the doorway.
‘Scum’ ground the remains of his cigarette under his heel and stepped through. He waved goodbye to Dave and found his way back to the stage.
The rest of his band (and Imogen in tow) stood chatting to some bloke in a sparkling top hat.
Charles didn’t recognize him from that, but the hat was not the oddest thing this guy was wearing, fur-coat, union-jack waistcoat, and pinstripe trousers with cowboy boots.
It couldn’t be.
He slid into the group and listened.
“—azing. Dug the bass-riff, and Killswitch… those chops, man. And that track — ‘Ennui-of-whatever-it-was’, the last thing, talk about sticking it to the man! I mean I used to be the man, and boy did I feel it sticking me, right here!” the stranger ranted, then he noticed Charles had joined the others, “Ah, there he is, Scum Duxton, brilliant name, simply fantab! Only way it could be better is if you spelt it with a ‘K’. Your band mates were informing me that you’re a musical genius, play drums, bass, and rhythm guitar, yourself. We should do something with that, just imagine two drummers, or two bass guitars for some songs!”
“I’ve been telling them that for—” Charles began.
“Of course — musical genius! So I can see it now, European Tour, where the language barrier plays to your favour, get a German, French, or Spanish — no, not Spanish, too Catholic — recording contract, then bootleg illegal copies into the country. Stay edgy, stay cool, no selling-out! What do you say boys? Wait — do you have day jobs?”
“No,” said Wayne.
“Yeah,” said the others.
“Do you like your day job?”
“It’s not bad,” said ‘Killswitch’, the stranger ignored him.
“No,” Rik and Charles acknowledged.
“How’d you like to walk into work Monday and tell them where they can stick their job, eh?” the stranger said.
“Look, no offense mate, but who are you?” Charles asked as Rik grinned at the thought, and Joffrey looked terrified.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you missed my introduction. I’m Bazza Farnsworth, I used to work for Tesla Records, but I’m quitting all of that to manage you guys.”
“Bazza? You mean Barnaby Farnsworth-Hyde, Marquis of Brompton, One Hundred Thousand of Purple, Aurora, and Clerk, used to manage ‘Duchy of Gore’?” Charles asked.
“Titles the man gave me, and all utterly worthless. I have renounced it all, to act as your manager. You are going to be bigger than all of them. We are going to revolutionise music— No! The world!” Bazza grinned insanely.
“I don’t know about that,” Rik said, and their self-proclaimed manager wheeled to face him, “I mean, managing ‘Duchy of Gore’ still counts for something. What do you think Wayne?”
They all rounded on Pengwern, who looked pregnant with thought, “I don’t know. I like bits of the idea, but touring Europe? That needs cash, sodding eating, and drinking needs cash, and where’s that going to come from? Feels like selling out to me.”
“My money! Here have some!” Bazza pressed rolls of notes on Wayne and the others.
Charles noticed, slightly less excited than the others, that they were all fivers, and the serial numbers were sequential.
“I emptied my bank accounts this morning. I had decided my plan, but needed my band. If you gits are not my band then I will go and see what the second half has to offer. If you are my band then screw the rest of the competition, they can forward the five hundred quid prize.”
“Vouchers,” Wayne said, “Not cash!” He was staring in dismay at the roll of five-pound notes in his hand.
“Shit! You are so right!” Bazza gasped, and snatched the money roll back. “Her face is on every note!” He grinned and pulled out a cigarette lighter, “We’ll do it without cash.”
He held the roll as crisp green and purple flames rippled down its length, before dropping it in a sand tray that Imogen kicked over, “Oh man, that’s treason you know, but fuck that felt good. Try it.” He handed another roll and the lighter to Wayne.
Wayne grinned from ear to ear.
“Shit, you get it!” was all he said as he watched the smoke rise. “I’m in! All the way, let’s tear it all down!”
Charles and the others quietly pocketed their rolls of cash, grinned, and shook hands with Bazza. “No effing paperwork, no contract, none of that shit, no wait— that’s not fair. We need something, he pulled out a notebook and wrote, “I Bazza (of previous titles known to the band) do hereby agree to make the band ‘Cheirosyphon’ world famous, I will accept no money from them, nor payment from any booking, gig, or record sale. All finances to be equitably and evenly distributed between the band members, here undersigned,” reading it aloud as he went.
Wayne shrugged, “Seems fair, there’s not going to be that much to split after all. And where we can we don’t use cash, or banks or any of that.”
Rik leaned over and signed after him. Joffrey took the pen and signed too.
He held the pen towards Charles, who looked up at Bazza, who winked and rubbed his fingers avariciously. Charles asked, “Do you collect our souls at the end?”
Bazza grinned the wider, “Nah, no need — the fans will be plenty,” he said, and then rolled his eyes, “Seriously? Okay, I’m against the man, the Queen and the Devil too; no one is going to tell me what to do.”
“Oh man, there’s a new lyric right there!” Rik grinned, patting his hands on his legs.
“Yeah,” Wayne agreed, “I can almost hear the rest of it already.”
Charles grinned, “Sod it,” he said and wrote ‘Skum Duxton’ on the paper.
The stage filled suddenly with a ripple of snare, and a squeal of feedback as “The Misnomers” began their set in front of the curtains, ‘Babylon of Thirst’ were milling about behind the curtain, setting up their kit while Leeroy and the rest thrashed about with a Heavy-Rock vibe.
Bazza faked a huge yawn. “Well, they’re okay, but they’re not you. Let’s blow — ah no, wait the vouchers. I’ll meet you back here at the end, I’m going to go and speak to a friend of mine who, well he might have a van, a bus, or a dog, or something…”
The band watched him walk away; after he had gone, they listened to the other bands. They knew they were going to win, the crowd called for them, the judges voted for them. They won.
As they were leaving, clutching the voucher books to two local music shops, Bazza slid in from the side, “I’ll have a gig arranged by Friday. You’d better have my card.”
The card was green with white lettering and had a contact charm and an address printed on it, nothing more.
“It’s a service exchange, so better to not use the Charm,” he explained to Wayne, and as Wayne turned away satisfied, made a ‘call-me’ gesture behind his back to the others. “Well you lovely gobshites, I have places to be and people to see… Quit your jobs lads, and practice instead. Wayne’ll come and find out the details.”
Once he was gone Killswitch said, “Media Svengali or not, I’m going to work this week, but practice every night?”
The others agreed as they walked toward the van. Skum Duxton looked at his band mates, “You know what, I think I probably am going to quit, we can practice without Lead. Maybe work on some other songs that you can come in on in the evenings, you know Joff?”
Wayne grinned, “That’s brilliant, Chaz.”
“I don’t know about that, I mean I’ve got to pay my mum some rent and food and… well, maybe,” Rik chimed in.
“I can cover for you a bit during writing, I’ve got some ideas I’d love to try working on, maybe see if you can take Thursday and Friday off?” Skum tried.
“Well, I do have some holidays backed up, Charles,” Joffrey ‘Killswitch’ Oberwulf suddenly joined back in. “And I’ve got some ideas for lyrics, Wayne. That are really different, but — you know — still on message.”
“I think that double drums thing could be very cool, Charles,” Rik suddenly added.
“Cool, I don’t mind singing some other stuff as well as my own lyrics, so long as everyone else agrees they’re good,” Wayne agreed, “and Charles, maybe on some songs you could play bass and let me concentrate on singing.”
“Great, but guys, from now on,” Duxton grinned and said, “call me Skum.”
Ironmaster & Other Tales Available Now
I hope you enjoyed that preview (the last I’ll be publishing here for now) , and want to read more about the Band and all the other characters that you met in the other previews. You can find “Ironmaster & Other Tales” in your favourite online ebookstores, or buy it direct from Lulu in ebook or paperback.