On Tour, Backstage
Jane, an eighteen-year-old high school grad, was the runner assigned to look after the bands who were headlining the four different stages of the Wrexham music festival. As the giant party progressed, kids destroyed their minds on neat vodka and impure MDMA, many ending up in bushes, vomiting on their pineapple print button down shirts. As dusk approached, summer seemed to cower. Rain clouds gathered and those on acid felt a sense of impending doom that the more sober revellers were yet to experience.
A manager of one of the headliners drew Jane aside. “If you can deal with these people – and calling them people is generous – then you’ll go far in this business,” he said.
“Actually,” said Jane, “I want to be an artist myself someday.”
“Jane? You seem like a nice girl, so I’ll give you some advice – be a lawyer, be a sales rep because nothing good can come of being a musician. Nothing.” He grabbed Jane’s shoulder and with a haunted look in his eyes and said, “I’ve seen things and they can never be unseen. Heed my words Jane, musicians are not bound by law or conscience. They are truly soulless. Now, where’s the bar? We’re off to get smashed.” He whacked her hard on the back. “Good luck.”
The four managers of the headlining acts headed off to drink away their sorrows, leaving Jane to face her first task – pleasing a hip-hop group, named ‘Spark a Fat One’. They had trainers bigger than their heads and wore baseball hats so low over their eyes they relied mostly on sound to guide their way.
Jane ushered the rap band into their tent as raindrops began to spatter against their faces. The group lit a joint and sunk happily into a sofa, blasting music from their sound system – the bass shaking the fabric of the tent. They seemed happy enough, so Jane left them to it.
Then the heavens opened, vast puddles formed almost instantly as people’s feet were swallowed into the mush.
“This is no good, this is no good!” cried the members of the jazz band, named ‘Swirling Nightgowns’. They wiped dirt off their spats and sludge from their purple zoot suits. Jane directed them into a tent straining at the seams from water accumulating overhead. She felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Is this incessant noise going to continue?” said a man with a floppy fringe, decked out in bow-tie and tails. He was the conductor of the German classical orchestra named, ‘Herr Ribauls’, “Because I won’t stand for it, oh no.” He was referring to the sound from the rappers’ tent. He chewed on his lower lip and jutted his chin out, waiting for an answer. “Hmm? Hmm? I mean, I feel the need to cleanse myself in a Himalayan mountain stream.”
A man with a blue mohawk, from the band ‘Grindross’, dressed in serious leather and serious chains, barged into the conductor sending him headfirst into the mud, drenching him completely.
“You do know our tent is leaking?” the rocker said, while Jane fretted over the conductor who flapped about in the slush.
“You brute!” cried the conductor.
“Oh god, oh god,” said Jane.
The punk jabbed his finger in Jane’s face, silver bangles rattling on his wrist. “You’re treating us this way cos we’re punks, right? You think we don’t contribute to society, huh!? But let me tell you, we contribute baby, we contribute! I signed a petition just last WEEK!”
“I’m sure you are very socially aware, sir, I’m trying my best, I really am,” said Jane, trying to remain poised.
Just then a gust of wind swept through the area, charging around the campsite sending everything crashing to the ground – the only thing left standing was ‘Spark a Fat One’s’ tent.
Jane tried to think – carefully and quickly. Everyone was coated with mud but to prevent further ignominy she hoarded all the acts into the rappers’ tent and hoped the people would embrace the situation and see the funny side.
The conductor, caked in dirt, looking like a clay sculpture, turned to Jane and said, “I am not going to share a tent with those vagrants if they continue to play that dirge-like discord that is currently wreaking havoc with my eardrums!”
Jane squeezed her way through the melee – past the massed ranks of violinists plucking strings, the drummers pounding on their knees and the noodling jazz trumpeters – and asked the rappers to turn the volume down. They stared straight ahead, sitting on the couch like Buddhist monks meditating, gently nodding their heads in unison. One of them reached over and flicked the sound several notches louder. Jane winced, and felt the vein in her neck begin to throb. She returned to the conductor.
“I’m so sorry, sir, I can’t do much more,” Jane pleaded, “it’s their tent and we are at a music festival after all.”
“This isn’t a festival, it’s Dante’s seventh circle of hell. Save yourselves!” he bawled to no one in particular, flailing his arms above his head. He re-joined the orchestra, while frantically searching his jacket for his lithium tablets.
The saxophonist from the ‘Swirls’ interrupted everyone – who were essentially playing a giant game of Twister now – and said, “Hey, hey! Do we at least get a rider? I demand my melange of sautéed canapés.”
Jane manoeuvred her way through bodies to get to the jazz virtuoso. She wiped the sweat from her brow and began to recite the words she’d rehearsed hundreds of times leading up to the festival. “Mr Duello, may I call you Sam? I have no canapés to offer you, but I’d like to provide my services in another way.”
Suddenly, interrupting her speech was the sound of cracked wood. Jane swivelled and saw the guitarist from ‘Grindross’ breaking a violin over his knee. The violinist’s jaw dropped. She shrieked, leapt on the punk and throttled him. He emitted sharp squeals and his body writhed in agony.
Jane remained rooted to the spot, she thought, “Let it be, Jane, you’ve done all you can. I came here for a reason.”
Unmoved by the scuffle, one of the rappers pulled out a joint the size of a baby’s arm and got down to lighting the behemoth.
The conductor sniffed the marijuana several times, then panicked, “Contact high! Contact high! Where are my pills?!” he said. He ducked under a table and peeked out, struggling to hold in his breath.
“So, Sam,” said Jane, determined to say her piece. “I myself am a musician, a flutist in fact. I’m also Irish. My dream is to unite North and South with my music. Anyway, I love you guys and…”
Before she could finish her sentence the ‘Grindross’ singer had found room to swing a guitar above his head and hurl it out of the tent like a shot-put. Everyone dived for cover, musicians piling up, forming a rugby scrum.
“And I think – I just think – if you could give me one chance to perform for you,” Jane continued.
A mobile rang and everyone checked their pockets, while Jane rummaged around in her rucksack for her instrument.
“Mum?” said the punk singer into his phone. “I told you I’m working. Yes, yes, at the law firm. No, I told you, I quit the band. Of course, I will be a nice boy, I will, I will. Ok, look mum, I have to go, I’m working on the Plinsky case, a very big case, so goodbye now mum. Goodbye.”
The singer hung up. Everyone gawped at him.
“What!?” he said.
He squeezed himself beside the rappers on the couch, crossing his arms, sulking. He reached for the joint. Everyone started to push and shove again, battling to free themselves – fists digging into ribs, feet aimed at noses.
A searing note cut through the fractious atmosphere grabbing everyone’s attention, even Duello’s, who looked up at Jane as she played her sweet melody. The rest of the musicians reacted to the soft and lilting sound of Jane’s flute in their own way – some smiling gently, others clicking their fingers to the rhythm – all transported somehow. Jane played like never before and she soared. The ‘Swirls’ got lumps in their throats, the orchestra’s lips trembled, the rappers wiped some moisture from their eyes, the punks wept and the conductor, still squatting under the table, swatted imaginary flies from his nose.
Voices could be heard from outside the tent.
“What is that sound?” said one of the managers, on unsteady feet, bleary-eyed from an afternoon’s drinking session.
“Not one of my ungrateful rabble, I can tell you that,” quipped another manager.
“It’s – it’s magnificent,” said another.
As the managers stepped into the tent, they saw bodies tangled together like coiled extension leads. Yet everyone seemed entranced by the simple tune, as if it were a siren’s call.
The looks in the musicians’ eyes were similar to when they were first signed – virtuous, innocent and with a genuine desire to change musical history.
It was nearly time for the artists to perform and they went through their preparatory routine, desperate to channel their newfound inspiration and share it with the thousands of fans waiting for them.
One of the managers sidled up to Jane and said, “I manage ‘Swirling Nightgowns’ and I see something in you, well I think we all do. I want to offer you a record contract. I think you can go far. Part of me feels I’m about to ruin your life though – what with the all the drugs, the groupies, the money and the disconnection from reality that comes with success. But my job is to find talent and you have talent, no doubt.”
The bands began to psych themselves up and having reached fever pitch they said, “Let’s do this! Let’s rock!”
Jane was speechless. She had really done it. Her head was spinning.
Suddenly the tent was ripped from its moorings and went flying off into the distance. The artists were too hyped to notice. They streamed out of the site and dashed to their respective stages.
The manager drew her aside, “Seeing as you haven’t actually signed yet and you’re still a runner, I think it’s best you break the news to the bands. The festival has been cancelled. See you at the recording studio kiddo,” he said, slapping her hard on the back, nearly sending Jane headfirst into the mud. “Welcome to the music industry.”