Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.
Date: The last time. Jake swears.
Venue: Small local club.
Crowd: Double, due to blurred vision.
Being in a band is like travelling by car with your drummer behind the wheel. You can have the best intentions to arrive at your destination in one piece, by really you’re at the mercy of their ability and at best, they’re probably drunk.
When Nicky drinks, he plays too fast. This isn’t a case of perfectionism in the face of an immeasurable speed increase. It’s the difference between adhering to the speed limit and freewheeling down a mountainside with the brake lines cut.
Conversely, when Nicky is high, he plays too slowly. Imagine being stuck behind a mobility scooter on a dual carriageway and you’ll start to empathise.
In the early years, we’d never know which particular drug was coursing through his veins until the first count in. Since getting a drummer to abstain from excess is impossible, Ritchie developed a finely tuned formula to guarantee he’d play the songs at the correct tempo. The trick was to ensure he had exactly the same amount of each drug in his system.
Consequently, they frequently had conversations that went along these lines.
RITCHIE: “How many pints have you had?”
NICKY: “I lost count.”
RITCHIE: “Go smoke a joint. Now.”
Which understandably made Nicky quite fond of Ritchie. I imagine it’s the kind of parenting Keith Richards was subjected to.
Tonight’s show is a headline show at a small local rock club. At this stage in our career we have, for reasons unknown, become fairly reliable at drawing a crowd in our hometown. So the club is full, the band is excited, and Nicky is drunk. So far so typical.
With our set imminent, the time comes for Nicky to balance his intoxication. He is followed outside by a ‘slightly more drunk than usual’ Jake. This wouldn’t be a problem, except Nicky’s ability to spot potential danger is inversely proportional to how shitfaced he is. Couple this with Jake’s propensity for auto suggestion, and it isn’t long before Jake is passed out on the floor outside the club. Jake, it turns out, does not share Nicky’s constitution.
It is 10 minutes until showtime.
Moments later Jake is half roused by Ritchie and isn’t exactly looking his best. The medical definition is polypharmacy intoxication; to wit, Jake is high as balls.
It takes approximately 0.2 seconds to realise that, in his current condition, Jake will not be playing the show.
“You think he needs a beer?” Nicky offers.
Given the predicament, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable suggestion. Life is about balance. I begin to agree with Nicky, before Ritchie takes charge. Within seconds Jake is furnished with water and asked how many fingers Ritchie is holding up. He is only out by a couple, which satisfies us enough to drag him in the direction of the stage, strap on his bass and prop him up against a speaker.
Ritchie and I exchange nervous glances as Nicky counts us in at the mercifully correct tempo. The first song kicks in and the crowd surges forward in a wave of sweat and limbs. Jake stares unblinking at the mess of energy before him, and for a moment I panic that A&E was perhaps a more appropriate location to take him than onstage. Which is when he explodes into action.
Jake jumps, flails and headbangs through the remainder of the song with a chaotic energy that would power a small country. It’s a sort of haphazard ferocity, perfectly straddling the boundary between ballet and collapsing. It is, in a sense, punk perfection.
Then my ears catch up with my eyes.
Jake is miming. His pick is hitting nothing but air. Meanwhile, his fret hand isn’t even in the same postcode as a note. What’s more, he keeps this up for the entire set. 11 songs and he doesn’t play a single note. It is simultaneously the most idiotic and genius thing I’ve ever seen; if you’d seen him outside, you’d know Jake was never in any danger of hitting a correct note.
And somehow the crowd don’t notice.
30 minutes later, the final bass-less chord rings out. Ritchie and I share a relieved look and turn to Nicky. We allow ourselves the kind of self congratulatory thumbs up that should be reserved for being safely away from the blast zone.
So it’s no surprise that an uneasy hush descends over the crowd. Something has their attention. In unison we turn to see the focus of their consideration. It is, of course, Jake.
He has no idea the set is finished. Instead, he’s silently thrashing about like he’s headlining The Underworld as some sort of punk circus mime.
Slowly, but inevitably, the puzzled crowd disperses as Ritchie tames Jake. No one is sure what they just witnessed, but they’re pretty sure it was unique.
We learned an important lesson that night. Never mime under the influence.
Photo by Paul Hudson via Flickr