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©Marcus J Brierley, 1999
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5 - Waking up is hard to do
1967 was a memorable year.
The cliché has been roundly established 'if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there'. So then, of all the un-remembered parts of the sixties, 1967 could be said to be remembered as being the most likely to produce forgetfulness, and that was its very memorability.
For those who were there. It began like this.
January the first was a cold and wet day.
Damian and Patsy, Bertie and Karina, Sheila and nobody, slept till two thirty pm when one of them awoke. It is irrelevant who.
There must have been something in the cosmic astrology of 1967, because two thirty pm seemed to become instantaneously the de facto equivalent of seven am, say, in normality street. The time when folk rise and clean their teeth and scrub their armpits and empty their bowels and bladders in preparation for a day which would normally stop at bedtime around eleven pm, say. But the clock slipped round without noticing and it all became topsy turvey, at least in Damian's end of the building. At the other end of the day, five thirty in the morning, became bedtime, sometimes even later, or earlier depending on where you stood on the matter.
Once the new term started back at College, Patsy reverted to normal time zone through a strength of will unknown to Damian because she cared about finishing her course and gaining a professional qualification. This of course meant she missed a lot of fun. But if you're doomed to forget it anyway, was this an issue?
Sheila was 21 and decided not to return to halls of residence. Instead, she agreed to take up official rent paying residence at the flat. This meant that she mainly ran Damian's Room time, but occasionally was stimulated to appear to function on normal time zone for the purposes of getting her degree.
Dave decided not to return to College at all but came back to haunt the flat and run Room time or even his own room time.
Bertie managed dual time keeping by keeping Room time on even days and normal time on odd days, but only if he could remember the date.
Karina Thomson was somewhat of a mystery because she was not at College but worked in Town. She did move in with Bertie and that was good because she earned a great deal of money and helped him pay for his rent and food, but no-one ever found out how she earned her money and she never bothered them with the details. She was truly remarkable because she maintained Room time at the night end of the day and normal time at the normal commencement to day time, which meant she managed on frightfully little sleep, or else fell over on the job.
Damian ran only Damian's Room time.
So what sort of things made 1967 a memorable year?
Well, there was the night that Alexis Korner, legendary father figure of the British blues, brought a gangling black American guitarist with blonde on blonde hairdo down to Les Cousins on a Saturday all nighter. While eating his Fender, he chewed so far through it that it came out upside down. During those twenty or so minutes' experience, the meaning of the word 'guitarplayer' was altered for all generations to come and he ripped his way into the counter culture like a chainsaw on ice. Jimi, you made our hearts sing.
Then there was the night that Mother of All Invention Frank Zappa, halfway through his gig, pumped the old Albert Hall three feet into the air with the solitary aid of a wah-wah pedal, thereby tearing the building clear away from its foundations. Jimmy Carl Black, meanwhile clambered into the cockpit of the great organ, and flew the entire edifice, complete with audience, twice around the North Circular Road before bringing us all safely home to rest only twelve feet to the west of the Albert Memorial. Not many people know that.
Then there was that round thing that landed somewhere near Chalk, Chalk, Chalk Farm, Farm, somewhere near, somewhere. That round thing, UFO thing, UFO, UFO, Euphoria?
Well yes, these are just a sprinkling of the momentous and historic events which sparked the commencement of this new era called 1967, as different from the six years which preceded it as from the last six minutes of the world.
* * *
Having written some of the best songs of his life in the last six days of the year that was gone, Damian was as keen as ever to get on with recording a new album.
He decided that bothering his publisher every day without fail, until he had landed him a suitable deal, was the best way of bringing that event speedily to occurrence.
It was soon after this that Damian came to hear of the major emerging business activity of being "in a meeting".
The expression was a new one to him, and his publisher seemed to be more and more tied up in them as the weeks went by. He would call and ask to speak to Ted Landsman, who had been so helpful in liberating him from his previous recording contract and so keen to sign him to an exclusive non-revocable five year publishing deal, but could he speak to him? Could he hell! The chicklet on the phone would disappear for a few seconds and then come back with,
"Sorry Damian, Ted wants to speak with you, but he's tied up right now, he's in a meeting."
This had the effect of making Damian so on edge and so anxious to hear word, after all the meeting might be to do with his own career, that he almost always called back within fifteen minutes. The chicklet would get more and more impatient and eventually start to tell lies. Or had she been telling lies all along? Was she actually not telling Ted that Damian had rung ever? He was certain that she was keeping him from him, when all along Ted was sitting there, waiting for a call. So Damian would get in the Fiat and drive up to Town. But by the time he got there, Ted would be out - "at a meeting". The whole affair was thoroughly frustrating.
After two weeks of this, Damian decided not to be put off any longer and sat outside Ted's office in Soho Square in the Fiat waiting until he saw him coming back into the building following a lunch time meeting.
He waited fifteen seconds and then hastened in after him, following him up to the second floor in the lift.
He emerged before the switchbored chicklet, henceforth called Chicklette, and triumphally demanded the presence of Ted Landsman, knowing him to be freshly arrived in his office. But after a perfunctory telecommunication between the glass partition, Damian was assured that Ted was sorry but in a meeting.
He was furious. He leapt up and down and banged the desk and said this was no way to treat an artist of his calibre and did Ted realise that he had been trying to speak with him for two weeks about his new material. Chicklette made another inter-partitional call. Ted was sorry, he really was in a meeting, but if Damian could hang on for fifteen minutes or so, then he would most likely be free to see him, muchos apologies.
Damian waited two and a half hours.
Finally, the door to Ted's office opened and a middle aged gent with well oiled tonsure and easter-than-Saville-Row suit emerged clutching many pieces of paper and demo tape boxes in one hand, and shook Ted's hand vigorously with the other.
Ted, who was only the same age as Damian, but passed for 40, Damian thought of him as 40, did his best beam at Damian accompanied with a gallic, or was it just music industry, shrug and said,
"Sorry, Damian, sorry, I really am. I really had no idea it would go on this long. You know meetings. I know you've been trying to get me on the phone. but I really have been tied up, mate. Want a coffee? Could we have some coffee, pet?"
Chicklette gave a flounce particularly at the recognition Damian now received having perceived him as merely a nuisance. She performed her function perfunctorily.
Damian was just relieved to see that Ted Landsman was in fact a real thing and not merely a figment as he had begun to imagine.
"I'd forgotten what you looked like, Ted," he said.
"Sorry, Damian, I really am. It's just been so chaotic since the beginning of the year. I don't know what's getting into the old music biz but it's really been a song and dance."
They settled in Ted's leather clad office. Damian liked this bit. It felt like 'being there'. Chicklette entered with coffee and kitkats. Luxury living.
"So what've you been doing, mate?" said Ted in his amiable, reassuring, confidence inspiring way. It was as if he had no concept of the driving force of Damian's life - to write, perform and record songs.
"Well just before Christmas I had quite a few gigs around the place and I did a Don Quillie show, you know. Did you hear that Ted?"
"I'm sorry, I missed that one Damian. I heard about it of course. It went well I believe?" Ted hadn't heard about it of course. He didn't listen to radio that late at night, who did?
"It was great. Don was great. Don said he really liked the stuff and I reckon he'll have me back again soon."
"Great, Damian, that's terrific, that's great."
The phone rang. Ted spoke on the phone long distance to America for fifteen minutes while Damian twiddled his thumbs and gazed about the room in hope of seeing something referring to himself maybe.
Ted put the phone down.
"Sorry about that, Damian," Another music biz shrug. "Busy, busy, busy, now where were we? You got on OK with Don Quillie?"
"Right, right," said Damian, trying to regain the momentum of enthusiasm which a successful radio broadcast might inspire in a publisher who by now had almost forgotten why he had ever signed up this petulant young man.
"Anyway, I've been doing a lot of writing over the holiday and I've got more than an album's worth of new material together now. Maybe we should go into a demo studio and get it on tape."
"Not a bad idea," remarked Ted, "So when do you want to go in?"
Damian went hot and cold with excitement for an instant. God, if only Lem were around to record with.
"Well any time really," he said. "I'd like to get them down just to get an idea of how to treat them later. You know, later on when we've got the right album deal and stuff."
Ted was thumbing through his diary and picking up the phone. It seemed, within seconds, a small Soho studio and a date were merged together.
"There you are then, Damian, next Thursday, six o' clock. Think you're going to be ready for that?"
"Fantastic!" said Damian, "That's really great, I can't wait. Can we have an acetate of the recordings so I can play them at home?"
Ted nodded energetically, knowing that with the minimum of expenditure, he had defused the angst and Damian would be out of his hair for a week or two longer. He was ready to move on to the next meeting.
"Have you heard anything at all, Ted?" said Damian, anxiously now, aware that his moment was about to be terminated and he didn't know when he might get another.
"What about, Damian?"
"Well the new record deal, you know, we said that we were going to get a new deal for a couple of albums and before Christmas, well way before, you said you thought you'd got Decca interested on that new label."
Damian's voice showed the strain of his inner anxiety.
"Mmm, well, I haven't been able to get back to Ronny, he's been very tied up signing new artists."
"I thought the idea was that I was going to be one of them?" said Damian.
"Yeah, you really deserve that, Damian, I know. But you know sometimes the dice don't fall that way. Anyway, I haven't heard anything. But I've got a meeting with the head of A & R at RCA next week and your new demo - right? - might just be the sort of thing he's looking out for."
Ted rose from his seat, now determined that this was the end of this particular meeting.
He held out his hand. It was the signal for 'good-bye'.
Damian was determined to extract one more penance from the trusty Ted, after all, what use was there in having a publisher if you couldn't make something out of it.
"You remember when I signed," he said while shaking hands, "You said you could let me have an advance against royalties? Well I've only had a hundred and fifty quid so far, and I really need a bit more to cover the next quarter's rent, which is due any day, any day. I was really hoping for another couple of hundred to tide me over till the deal comes through."
Ted winced inside, 'Bastard.
He smiled affectionately and patted Damian on the shoulder, nevertheless he steered him firmly through his office door to the outside where Chicklette filed her nails yet more.
"I don't see any problem with that," he said pressing the lift button and personally pushing the iron sliding gate to one side. Again patting Damian on the shoulder in such a way as to propel him forcibly into the lift car, "I'll get you a cheque off during the week then, mate. Don't fret. I've got your interests at heart!"
With these sincere words, Ted pushed the lift door too, watched Damian descend to street level and, almost certainly, promptly forgot all about him.
Damian, meanwhile, high on the idea of doing demos again, raced the Fiat homewards to share the news with anyone who might listen.
* * *
Ted didn't forget about Damian entirely.
Having decided to invest small beer in a few new demos, he set about capitalising on it by warming up Trevor, his plugger, to the idea of taking the tapes round the BBC and drumming up a bit more support for the act. In fact, when Trevor was informed, he told Ted that he'd heard on the grapevine that the Don Quillie session with Damian had gone down well with the show's producer. They'd had quite a bit of good feedback from listeners, and there were even people out there phoning in to see if they could book Damian for their club. Ted was elated and decided to offer encouragement to his protégé. So, on Thursday, he turned up at the studio for the session carrying an envelope with the requested further advance on royalties personally.
Both Patsy and Sheila had decided to come with Damian to the studio.
The idea of 'studio' and 'recording' was pretty sexy. Evening sessions had still more caché as day time workers left their offices in the rain and the night took on it's eary electric mantle.
The girls pressed on either side of him as he waltzed through the doors of the grubby ordinary office type of building in Wardour Street Soho, amid the accumulated piles of street market and shop rubbish waiting for early morning collection, and Damian felt good. They piled up the stairs and into the small reception area. A girl with a ciggie in her mouth and a glass of red wine in her hand welcomed them and guided them through to the control room where Damian was delighted to see Ted Landsman already there and chatting to the engineer.
"Great, Ted. Didn't know you were going to grace us," said Damian, "D'ya, know Patsy?" he waved flamboyantly in her direction,
"Patsy, my girlfriend - Ted, my publisher. Ted this is Sheila, my spare," Damian roared with laughter at his tasteless joke. Patsy looked at Sheila, Sheila looked at Patsy, they both shrugged at each other as if to say, 'sorry for this shit we know and love as Damian James'.
"Nice to meet you, girls," said Ted. "Now just to set you on fire before you get started, Damian, here's a little envelope with something very important in it!"
Damian tore it open and seeing the cheque for the necessary amount, leapt round the studio crowing like a hen.
It took him some time to settle down to the serious business of recording. Ted decided against springing any further good news on him, such as the favourable audience response to his radio broadcast. But once Damian had forgotten about the two hundred pounds, the session went smoothly using only his acoustic guitar and voice.
He laid down about eight tracks with hardly a break and barely a re-take over the course of the next hour. At one point, a young guy called Jimmy, with shoulder length hair and a guitar case in his hand came into the control room and watched.
"Any session work?" he asked hopefully.
"Not tonight mate," said the engineer.
The young lad stuck around for a bit longer and shared a spliff with Damian.
"If you need anyone for a session," he said, "you can reach me through Gerry," he inclined his head towards the control room.
"Yeah, great man, good to meet yuh," said Damian, but he didn't stop to ask Jimmy to take out his guitar and find out if he could play. Mistake. That Jimmy became a big act one day.
By about eight o' clock it was all done and dusted and Ted magnanimously offered to take everyone out for a meal in Soho. The kind of restaurant Ted could afford was naturally beyond the usual horizons of Damian and his girls so they leapt at it with all six feet.
For three or four hours, they basked in the kind of largess normally associated with the music biz, and several bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pâpe and a number of steaks-tartare later, they were waved off to the suburbs by an ebullient Ted, who staggered to the company Rover clutching the master tapes.
For the whole of the next week, Damian phoned Ted Landsman every day to see if he had negotiated a record deal yet and Ted began to wonder if he had done the right thing in forking out for a session. This was compounded by the fact that everyone he spoke to about it said,
"Folk's not happening at the moment. Your young chap should be playing electric and getting a band together if he wants to make an impression."
The BBC was more accommodating, if only because the cost of fees for one artist were substantially less than the cost of fees for four or five, so Trevor got Damian another spot on an afternoon arts show.
Damian was knocked out until he discovered that it meant being at Broadcasting House at ten in the morning.
* * *
Damian spent the rest of January either stoned or playing the guitar until four or five in the morning, usually both at the same time. He didn't notice much who was in the flat or out. He wouldn't have bothered with eating had Patsy or Sheila or Karina not insisted on cooking for him. He spoke in mainly monotones, working at tunes on the electric guitar, trying to sound as much like Eric Clapton as he could, and that was not much. But since he was also normally totally smashed, it made no real difference to his personal enjoyment and belief that he was on the right track.
Evenings were passed in Dave's room because it was smaller and easier to heat. It also turned out that the upstairs neighbours were less likely to object to the constant screeching and throbbing of the Fender when driven at full electric throttle into the rather feeble little amplifier which was all Damian had been able to afford.
Dave bought hash for cash, mainly in the Atlantic Road, Brixton, travelling there and back on the bus in absolute paranoia.
He bought enough for three or four days if used sparingly but it was not clear who paid for it, since he never asked anyone to contribute. On the other hand he didn't buy any food for himself but was provided for by everyone else, so fair was fair.
There was a mattress on the floor and a couple of rugs, the ones from Bertie's Gran, and with a roaring log and coal fire, and five or six folk flickering dimly in the flames, nodding and tapping and listening, or turning up unannounced unintroduced or unknown with guitars or tambourines to join in, the nights merged seamlessly into one another as the weather grew colder.
In February, the telephone was cut off for outgoing calls since no-one had remembered to pay the bill. Damian managed to negotiate with the GPO, who perhaps foolishly had supplied his phone services, a surprise deal which enabled them to receive incoming calls at no cost on the basis that his mother was dying - a lie - and needed to be able to contact him should something awful happen.
So it was, that around six one evening a foreign and unrecognised accent came on the line asking for Damian James by name.
Damian took the receiver from Patsy, his eyebrow curled into a question.
"Yeah, who's that speaking?" he demanded with a sense of growing suspicion.
"Hello, I am a friend from Lem Blimblatz," said the voice, "he has asked me to call you and to look you up."
"Hey, great, Lem!" said Damian, at once excited. People gathered around the phone to hear news of Lem. Sheila in particular was like a dancer on thin ice. "You got Lem with you? Is he in England? Do you know where he is?"
"I am sorry," said the voice, "I am not with Lem now, but he was with me in Italy a few days ago and he said to look you up when I come to England."
"OK right, right, Lem was with you in Italy? You were travelling together?" Damian turned to the others, "he hasn't got Lem with him. He says Lem was with him in Italy a few days ago."
Sheila sat down on the bed and started shaking with emotion borne of disappointment.
"So is he coming back to England do you know?"
"No I do not think he will now be coming back to England because I saw him on the flight to Los Angeles just two days ago."
"God, he was in Europe all that time?" said Damian incredulous, "I thought he had to be back in the States to go back to school. I thought he was just going to Europe for a few days and then going back to the States."
"Well, I don't know much about that, but anyway, we can talk about Lem later. He has given me some things for you. I must give them to you, so I hope we can meet when I will look you up."
The tinge of disappointment filled the air around the telephone.
"Right, well, I hope we can arrange that then," said Damian, fast cooling off.
"Lem said you will help me," said the voice, "He said you can get me some bread."
Damian's heart sank.
Why was this bozo on the line?
Lem surely wouldn't really tell anyone that Damian could help them with money.
Damian put his hand over the mouthpiece of the receiver and turned to Patsy who was now the only one with a continuing care for the conversation.
"He wants bread. He says Lem told him we can help him with bread. He sounds like some foreign geezer short of cash and looking for a room for the night. Jesus we've got enough geezers shacking up here that we don't know."
Patsy looked worried.
"Do you need bread, man?" asked Damian, trying to establish the level of urgency. "Are you in a fix?"
"In a fix? What means that in a fix. No not that hard stuff, just bread. I think that is the right word Lem told me. He said when I am in England to look you up and you will help me get some bread."
"I don't really have too much bread to spare, man," said Damian, "I mean, like in England, you know guys don't have too much bread to spare."
Patsy tugged at Damian's arm, "Damian, maybe he doesn't want bread. Maybe he's got the wrong word or something. If he's a foreigner maybe we should help him. I mean we've been in a fix and people have helped us out. Maybe not given us bread, but given us food and stuff."
Damian opened on another tack.
"OK man, is it food you need? Do you want us to make you a meal?"
"Oh yes, that would be nice, we could go for a meal, but you don't have to pay, I will buy you," said the voice.
Damian was looking amazed and baffled. He couldn't work it out. First the guy said he needed bread, now he was saying that he could take them out to eat. It didn't make sense. He explained his incomprehension to Patsy.
She took the phone off him.
"Hello, this is Patsy here, Damian's girlfriend. I think there is some kind of misunderstanding. I'm sorry, Damian is a bit confused this evening. He's a bit stoned. Can I help you sort this out? Damian says you are looking for bread, but that you have offered to buy us a meal. I think maybe you are using the wrong word and we have misunderstood what it is you want. Are you short of money?"
There was a roar of Italian laughter down the phone line. "Short of money? No, I have plenty of money, that is why I want the bread. Is bread the wrong word? I think Lem tells me that bread is the slang word for cannabis? Is that wrong?"
This time it was Patsy's turn to explode with laughter. She tried to tell Damian, but couldn't get the words out, so he took the phone from her once more.
"Hi, man, it's Damian again, I gather there's been some confusion and we've been getting the wrong end of the stick. I'm really sorry. You must think we're nuts. Can we start again from the beginning, please."
"Oh yes, well, I'm Guilio Antonioni from Italy and I am a friend from Lem. That is, we meet and he stay with me in my house in Milano. He knows I am coming to London very regularly and when he left for America last Monday, he told me to look you up in London and you would be able to help me get some bread, I mean cannabis. I'm sorry, I think it was my fault that I had the wrong word."
Damian clasped his sides and doubled up with feigned silent laughter and pointed at the phone, at himself and at Patsy.
"Right, OK then. Well where are you now Guilio? Where are you calling from?"
"I am at the Bromley South Railway Station. In the telephone kiosk," he said.
"Really! That's amazing Guilio. That's only a few minutes away from where we live, Did you know that?"
"Well, no, actually, I had no idea where you lived in London. So you could come and get me then? We could spend some time together, have a drink, have a meal, get some bread, no not bread. What is the right slang word for that thing I want?"
"I'll tell you later Guilio. Right then, me and Patsy'll be right down to get you. Give us ten minutes, we'll be there."
Three people got into the Fiat. Sheila was not interested in being left behind. Even if Lem was not there in person, someone who had been with him very recently was and whoever he may be that was good enough for her to want to be on board.
They came down Bromley High Street towards the station and drew into the forecourt, looking everywhere, in vain, for the kind of figure they imagined - anyone would have imagined - that would be the friend of Lem Blimblatz, a travelling companion from Italy. But no tall, long haired, guitar carrying individual was to be seen anywhere. A shortish, dumpy looking business type of guy, carrying a big suitcase was standing there, however, and when the Fiat drew up and Damian stepped out to look around, this same guy came up to him with outstretched hand.
"Hello, I am Guilio Antonioni," he said. "You are Damian!"
"Wow! Well, yes, well pleased to meet you!" said Damian, much in the same vein as he might now be meeting and greeting one of his parents friends at a New Year's cocktail party.
Despite the affluent business persona of Ted Landsman, for example, Damian could relate to him on the level that he was after all operating in the grooviest business on earth and was his personal mentor and supreme benefactor. But what on earth type of person was this Guilio and how did he fit into the genre he could not imagine. He was taken aback. So was everyone else in the Fiat.
"Ah, Fiat!" exclaimed Guilio like meeting an old friend.
"For many years, when I was studying in university, I owned one of these very cars!"
But now he looked as if he would be more at home in a Lincoln Continental. Certainly he would need the extra width. He leaned into the car and grinned gold filled grins at the two female occupants.
"So you are Patsy?" he grinned into the front passenger seat. "And you are probably Sheila!" He grinned into the back, the minute back passenger compartment.
"I am very delighted to meet you both, I have heard so very much about you from my great friend Lem Blimblatz. I am just so sorry that I was so stupid to forget the right slang words for what he told me. Still we should eat, no? You are all hungry, yes?"
The girls nodded affirmatively in bemused wonderment at this highly unusual figure, the like of whom they had certainly not encountered before in their very specific circle of acquaintance.
"Should I sit in the back?" he asked, turning to Damian.
"No, no," cried Sheila, almost too obviously hostile, "I mean, I'm sure you will be more comfortable in the front. I'm sure Patsy won't mind squashing in the back with me, will you Patsy?"
Patsy got the message and started to climb out, push the little seat forward and get into the back compartment. But Guilio, with characteristic Italian foresight, beat her to it and within split seconds was compressing his entire bulk into the small space beside Sheila and resting his large and weighty suitcase on both of their laps.
"I'm used to travelling in one of these, you see!" he declared proudly. "Some of my fondest memories come from being in the back of a Fiat 600. I spent most of my childhood, with my five brothers and sisters riding in the back of one just like this one. And most of my student life screwing my dear Italian girlfriends in the back of one. It's amazing how many different positions one can adopt in such a small space!" Golden grins abounded.
Patsy looked helplessly at Damian. He gave one of his music biz shrugs. They swung in and slammed the doors.
"Well, what would you like to do then Guilio?" asked Damian.
"Could we drive into London? Will it take long? Do you have time for that? You see, I do not come out to Bromley very often and I usually stay in the middle of London. All the places I know to eat at are there. Unless of course you know somewhere else we could go, more local. I am in your hands, entirely," he said amiably.
"Gosh you speak very good English!" said Damian with undisguised admiration.
"Well It is very good of you to say so, but I have no excuse not to speak good English because when I finished my degree in Italy, I came here to England and studied at college here for three years. So where shall we head for?"
"I guess we'd be happy to go up to town. I mean there's nothing but Indians and chippies and Chinkies around here, so if you want real food we'd be best to head up West."
"OK, that's fine by me then!" Guilio was a very positive and enthusiastic kind of soul, reflected Damian.
They drove to town by the most direct route, Catford, Lewisham, New Cross, the Old Kent Road. It took about 20 minutes with the traffic lights mainly on green - and having crossed the river at Westminster Bridge, Guilio, now on familiar territory, began directing Damian in towards Mayfair.
Up one side of Park Lane, round Hyde Park corner and back on the south carriageway brought them level with the Dorchester.
"This is my hotel, here on the left. Stop, stop!" exclaimed Guilio. "Sorry, I thought we were going to have to go round again! If we stop off here, I can get rid of this horrid suitcase full of samples."
In a haze of wonder, Damian pulled the Fiat into the forecourt of the palatial hotel. A uniformed doorman stepped forward to clearly usher them away as being in the wrong sort of vehicle. But no. Observing Snr. Antonioni in the rear of the Fiat, he opened the car door with a flourish and almost bowing to the pavement, uttered the words,
"Mr. Antonioni, it is a great delight to welcome you again. Will you be staying long sir."
Patsy leapt out of the humming Fiat and yanked the passenger seat forward so that Guilio could hand his suitcase to the doorman and prise himself onto the street. No 'handing' was necessary of course, because the doorman could see what was required without prompting. He looked sharply over his shoulder and called to a loitering porter. With an almost single movement swung the suitcase - which was quite a whopper - into the arms of the waiting porter while taking Guilio's arm and assisting him out of the car.
Guilio dusted himself down and smoothed his suit. He turned and beamed at the assembly of youth standing now all out of the Fiat and said, "Welcome my friends to my London home!"
It seemed that Guilio had travelled direct to Bromley on arrival at London Heathrow and had yet to check in to the Dorchester. But this procedure was so obviously of such frequency and he was clearly so well acquainted with the formalities and administrators that within a few minutes they were all standing in the centre of a substantial private suite.
"Feel at home, everybody. Order drinks. Order whatever you like. I'm going to the bathroom."
Guilio disappeared along a mirrored corridor off his own bedroom. Damian studied the framed card next to the telephone and considered how to go about ordering drinks, even what kind of drinks would be appropriate to order. Sheila peered over his shoulder helpfully. Patsy sat on the edge of a mock Louis XV couch and nervously scanned the room with her eyes.
"God guys, do you think we're nuts?" she said, "We've come here with a total stranger, who isn't like anyone we've ever met before, like our friends I mean, and we're about to go out with him and buy drugs for him. Maybe he's a loony or a pervert or something. Or a detective from Interpol."
"Well it's certainly different," said Damian. "How the hell do you get drinks?"
He dialled one hundred on the ivory phone.
"Dorchester Hotel, Reception?"
Damian hung up again, unable to think what the next correct response should be.
Guilio reappeared from the bathroom.
"Well? Everybody? Are we all having faahn? Shall we go and get the bread? I think I shall call it bread from now on anyway. Damian, when I telephone you from my hotel room and say 'Hello, it is Giulio here! Can you get me some bread?' we shall all know exactly what I mean! So, shall we get the bread? Girls? Damian? Girls, would you like to stay here in my hotel room, while Damian and I go to get the bread? You can have anything, meal, sandwiches, drinks whatever you like. You can look at my samples if you like?"
Patsy and Sheila were still dubious as to how to respond. Despite Guilio's almost constant stream of conversation on the journey into town, which had focused on Lem and Lem's guitar and Lem's songs and Lem's lack of money - it seemed, Guilio had paid for Lem's return fare to LA as well as befriend him in Italy - it was not yet clear what Guilio did for his money. The idea of looking at his samples, therefore, struck not a chord in the minds of the girls. They looked blankly at one another.
"Are you thinking of getting some stuff then bringing it back here to smoke then?" asked Sheila. She looked from Guilio to Damian and back again. Damian had no idea.
"Si, yes. Of course. Yes that is what I would like. Is that good for you? Then we can all be together and have some wine and some food and we will all talk about Lem."
"Right. OK then," said Damian. "Any idea how much bread you want to spend. How much dope you want to buy?"
"Of course, I do not know what it costs, but we just need to have enough for all of us for this evening, I mean. I don't want to have to take any back to Milano with me, that would be illegal, I think!"
It was clear that Guilio knew what he was embarking on but had never done it before.
"So how much shall I give you? Ten pounds, twenty pounds, a hundred? Whatever you need to buy for just us four here tonight."
Guilio was removing his wallet from his beautifully tailored Italian suit jacket and opening it and rifling through wadges of large currency notes, more than Damian and the girls had ever set eyes on this side of a set of iron bars.
Damian thought a small profit was in order given that they had been uprooted from their home on a cold night and driven to town, but didn't want to rip the guy off. A five bob deal would be plenty for a party of four for one evening.
"I'll just take a tenner," he said. "OK, let's go. You guys hang out here, we'll be back in thirty."
With these terse instructions barked to the girls, Damian jerked his head from Guilio in the direction of the door and marched out of the room.
"We won't be long girls!" said Guilio, his voice rippling with anticipation, "When we get back, we'll order dinner and wine and and I'll show you my samples, bye-ee! We shall have faahn."
The Fiat was as Damian had left it, unlocked and with the key still in on the Dorchester frontage. The doorman who appeared to have been guarding it with his spontaneous five star attention along with his other duties touched his topper and leapt forward to open its door for Guilio.
Damian drove through the side streets of Mayfair and up to Oxford Street. From there it was but a minute to Soho Square and Greek Street, where with a cursory street level negotiation with an absolute stranger, 'red leb' or 'afghan black' could be bought in neat silver pre-packaged sizes. He bought a ten bob deal just in case five was just too small. They drove back to the Dorchester. Guilio was bouncing up and down in the passenger seat with excitement and blathering on about what 'faahn' it all was.
Once back in the hotel suite, Guilio set about ordering dinner with the expertise of one who habitually orders dinner out. He ordered wines from memory. He gave precise instructions about cooking times and levels of rarity in meats. He demanded everything 'immediately!'. He wanted it all delivered now!
"There!" he said, "now we have food on it's way. It will be here very soon. Now shall we smoke some bread now or later? Which is best? Before food? Or after food? Which do you recommend?"
He beamed around the room at his small amazed audience. No time for reply.
"Oh, you haven't seen my samples. Ladies, you maast se my samples." He leapt up again, what energy this fat little forty year old had at nine in the evening having been on overdrive all day.
"Yes, I think we shall smoke some bread now, I can't wait. Make it so that we can smoke some now Damian, I will show the samples." Everything was to happen at once.
"I'm worried about what will happen when the waiter comes in with the food and stuff," said Damian, hesitating to start rolling up and blowing that beautiful green smell around the air.
"No, no. No problem. The waiter will set the table in here, we shall come out when we are ready. We will smoke in the bedroom. I shall show the samples in the bedroom, We will all have faahn."
They moved from the sitting room part of the suite to the bedroom and Damian sat cross legged on the bed making his preparations and rolling the first joint. Meanwhile Guilio hauled out his large suitcase and opened it up. The girls were astonished to see that it contained not his clothes as they expected, but dozens and dozens of shoes.
"These are amazing," said Sheila reaching in and picking one up.
Patsy too leaned into the suitcase and began sorting through the samples of shoes. They were indeed fabulous. Soft suedes and bright colours were combined in an unending range of styles, some with very high heels, some with thin as wire ankle straps, some just mules, all lined with soft leather and wearing that brand new top-class leathery scent. The girls attempted to try some on.
"I am sorry they are all one size, size three and an half. You can have anything you want if they fit you," said Guilio.
The Patsy and Sheila tried everything they could see, but nothing was quite large enough for their normal sized feet. Not only that, but there was not a pair of anything either.
"Oh yes, I forgot, there will only be left feet. I do not carry two shoes in my samples bag. Why carry two when the buyers can see what they are like with just one."
It was logical to Guilio, but was a major disappointment for Patsy and Sheila.
"Look, I am sorry," said Guilio, "But don't worry. You can choose anything you want, anything you would like to have and I will send them to you in the post. Proper pairs of shoes. I mean it!"
"How will you remember, Guilio?" asked Sheila her voice giving away some slight sense of disbelief, she was still very cautious in her acceptance of Guilio despite his claim of Lem's friendship.
"I will remember. Look, you choose and hold up the shoe to show me. I will write down first the person - Patsy or Sheila - then the model number. I will remember, you see."
Damian lit up a joint, drew hard and passed it on to Patsy.
Guilio couldn't wait, he intercepted the pass and took it himself. He took a long draw, like he'd observed Damian do, and promptly exploded into a coughing fit. The heat of the smoke combined with his fundamental inability to smoke anything at all and burnt his chest. But he refused to give up immediately and went in for a double dose. Totally unused to the experience of either cannabis or tobacco, he became very stoned very quickly.
There was a knock on the outside door of the suite. Damian had a flush of fear, but then realised that it was now he who would have to manage the delivery of dinner. He stood and shakily made his way to the door to let in the waiter, who wheeled in a substantially laden trolley and began to set up a dining table in the sitting room.
Damian thought he would be over quicker if he helped so he started to pick up cutlery and place it on the table.
"It's quite all right sir," murmured the waiter, "Please do not trouble yourself, I shall have it done in no time. Please."
Damian withdrew. In the bedroom, Guilio was laid out on the double bed, practically unconscious. He was sighing and moaning, "Oh God, oh god, oh god."
There was a discreet knock at the internal door.
"Everything's ready now sir, I'll shall be going directly. If there is anything else you require, please simply call room service."
"Oh, right man thanks," Damian said. He looked at the girls who were looking at Guilio.
"Do you think he's all right?" said Sheila. Patsy leaned over him and listened to his breath. She pressed her ear on his chest. They were all silent. She sat up, nodding affirmatively.
"I think he's alive," she said, "What're we going to do?"
"Just leave him here, I think," said Damian, "There's masses of grub out there. I think we should just get on and eat it. It'll get cold otherwise. We should just get on with it. He's fine. He's just passed out that's all. I don't think he's even smoked tobacco before, let alone hash. Let's leave him and have grub!"
They trooped into the sitting room and sat at the table.
"Wine?" asked Damian.
He poured red wine for each of them and peered under the various silver salver covers to determine what was to eat.
Some time later. Guilio appeared, to find them, and most of the food, long departed.
* * *
February was not warmer than January. Possibly this was a good reason for staying in bed most of the day and only coming out at night when the fires were burning.
"Make us a cup of tea Pats," said Damian looking cursorily up from his guitar to see her coming in from a day at college.
She uttered not a whimper of complaint and dutifully obliged.
"Ted says he might have a deal for me."
This was probably a sort of groove-speak for 'thanks for the tea Patsy, how was your day.'
"Great Damian. When did you speak to him?"
Since Damian spoke to him every day, this too was a template reply.
"This morning. No just about half an hour ago. He's been in meetings all day."
"Oh. What did he say?"
"Oh just that he's seeing someone this week. He says, there's a good chance he might be interested. He says he's got me another of those radio things."
"Great, Damian! When?"
"Oh, er, next month maybe."
"So it's not definite then?"
"Well yes. It's definite. I think. But, well, I'm not sure when it is. Next month I think he said."
"Right," said Patsy, slowing down into the speed of life in Damian's Room after a normal college day.
"Care for a roll up?"
Damian rolled up. Damian lit up. Damian passed it to Patsy after an over long pause. "Sorry Pats. Spaced out."
"Did you play the guitar today?"
Damian played the guitar everyday. "Yeah. I think I've got a couple of new songs coming. Want to hear them?"
"Mmm." Patsy always heard them.
Damian strummed and 'laahed' and even part sang words occasionally. Winter was not his best time.
"Want to come up to Les Cousins?"
"No thanks Damian. I'm a bit tired. Got to get up early tomorrow. Lectures first thing."
So this was a pattern which changed little until a ray of sunlight broke through the constant heavy black clouds.
It came for both of them on the same day. Damian was awakened mid-morning by the kind of front door knocking and banging which meant 'I want you to be at home, I seriously want you to come to the door and let me in.'
Damian tried his best to ignore it, but a moment later, the attention was transferred to the French windows not far from his head. He rose from the bed and gathered a sheet around him as was now his normal habit of decency. He drew back the curtains and was instantly blinded by yellow frosty daylight.
A parcel post delivery man dodgily came into focus.
"Yes. Bloody hell, man. Yes. What do you want? Don't you know what time of day this is? What is it?" shouted Damian, obviously alone in the flat, or else Dave was too far away to be disturbed.
"Parcel mate!" said the cheery postman, too used to this kind of behaviour to be phased.
"Couldn't you have left it on the doorstep. In the porch or something?" said Damian, still outraged at being woken and possibly having to face the entire day shivering or hungry.
"Too valuable mate," said the postman. "Registered. Come from abroad. Had to be cleared at Customs. Looks important to me. Been on the road a long time this one. Been stuck in Customs for weeks. I reckoned you'd want it mate. Looks important."
"Bloody hell!" Damian opened the French window to view the man face to face. He couldn't see any parcel. "Where is it. The bloody parcel. Where've you got it then?"
"Round the front, mate. In the porch. Too big to bring round here. Too heavy mate. Sign?" He proffered a small yellow carbonned slip and a ball-point.
Damian reached out for the things and while he pressed against the window pane to sign the acceptance document, his sheet slipped off leaving him absolutely naked in the cold outside wind. It was a normal day.
"Aah-ha-ha," said the postie, clearly pleased with the overall result. "Thanks mate. Round the front." That was his final intimation regarding the whereabouts of the package and having discharged his obligation, he departed.
Damian closed the window and pulled on actual clothing before going to the front door to retrieve the package, however, when he did, he was amazed at the size and weight of it. It was covered in stickers and stamps which showed that it had indeed come far and taken long. He dragged the thing inside and down the corridor to his room. He peered at the label. Unfortunately, it did not mention his own name - Damian James - but seemed to say 'for the attentione of Signoras Sheila and Patsy, with much love and affection.'
"Bloody hell. What the hell is it?"
Damian made some coffee to get warm and then the phone rang.
Surprise number two.
"Damian, I've got good news for you," said the voice of Ted Landsman. Damian's heart went into compound time for a couple of bars. "I've got lunch today with the head of A & R at CBS and I want you to come along."
"Whoo!" exhaled Damian with a rush of realisation.
"Now, he's had your most recent demos for the past week and apparently he caught your Don Quillie and was quite keen then. Anyway, I've promised him a meet with you over lunch, so it's a good job you're about!"
"You'd best come here first and we can go along to the restaurant together. Is that OK?"
"Shit, is that OK? Ted! It's far out!"
"See you at twelve then?"
"See you Ted. Thanks Man, wow!" Damian replaced the receiver on its rest.
"Yahooey!" "AARGH!" "Far out!" "Shit man!" he shouted accompanied by a significant war dance shortly followed by a major coughing fit.
Damian sat down on his bed, silent after the outbursts and then scratched his chin and his testicles simultaneously. He contemplated the ashes in the fireplace for a few moments, picked his nose thoughtfully, then stood up and looked feverishly around the room.
'God if only Patsy were here to help him get his head together.'
He looked this way and that and finally allowed nature to take the initiative by driving him to the bathroom for a pee.
There was little time to get it together. He had one hour to wash up, dress up and drive up to town.
He was indecisive about what he should wear for his first meeting with the head of A & R for CBS Records.
Most of his things were not clean or ironed, ironing was mainly not in common usage in the flat, except by its female occupants obviously, so he was forced to choose from things which were less dirty or less rumpled than the most dirty and rumpled attire, but velvet could be rumpled and still work, and most of his stuff was like that.
He looked in the mirror above the fireplace and sucked in his cheeks. He liked them sucked in. Would it be possible to keep them sucked in for a whole meeting? Eating as well? He gave up sucking in his cheeks temporarily.
He looked at his hair and rumpled it up, then experimented tying a silk bandanna round his head a few times, then he took it off and struggled with a hair brush, then he gave up and rumpled it again. He rolled a joint and savoured the smell of smouldering hash for a moment of two before lighting up. Then he got more confused and wished he hadn't done that so he went into the kitchen and stuffed bread into his mouth as an antidote. It didn't work.
He was already quite stoned. Shit.
The drive to town was not frenetic. But his state of mind was. Mid-morning made the traffic easy. But he swore at everything and everyone anyway. He parked on a meter and ran into Ted's office to get some small change from Chicklette with which to feed it.
"Money! Give me money. Com'on, don't fuck about man. I'm late!"
Chicklette didn't know what he was talking about. In fact it was all she could do to remember who he was so she set about arguing with him. He shouted louder. Ted emerged and pacified everyone. He forked out sixpences for the meter and Damian disappeared into the lift.
"Damian, hang on mate. Come on old sport, we can go down together. Don't worry matey. No rush. We're not meeting Steve till one. Got plenty of time."
Damian's heart was double pounding and his legs were double pacing. Ted grabbed him and tried to make him sit down. It worked. Once seated his metabolic rate subsided slowly and his mind started to function more rationally.
"Sorry Ted, I'm getting out of hand. Sorry, I'm just not cool. It's the traffic or something. It's the pot. I shouldn't've lit up before coming up to town. Shit I'm sorry man."
"Make him a coffee, Teresa. We'll going in about five or ten minutes, get us a taxi. Here give me the change, I'll go and stuff the meter. Teresa will stuff it this afternoon till we get back from lunch."
Damian looked round the room wondering who the hell Teresa was.
* * *
Steve Everest was in his early forties, spectacled, suited and could have been a senior executive in almost any industry. As head of Artistes and Repertoire for the European end of a successful and powerful international record label, he was toasted and treated by many such as Ted Landsman whenever they could get their hands on him. And from Damian's point of view, although there was a clutch of new and groovy record labels springing up all over London, with bright, breezy, poppy images and sounds, CBS had class and credibility especially on the folk act scene with names like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon leading the field.
Pacific Records, on the other hand, with whom Damian had recorded his EP, had an all folk following but no funds to spend on promotion, which it was expected the artists themselves would do by being on the folk scene. It was too slow for Damian.
"So why do you want to move labels, Damian?" asked Steve.
"Well, I want to try new things, use more musicians, a bigger sound and so on and Pacific just can't fund that sort of thing. Plus, they don't do any promotion that I can think of. Plus they have kept me hanging around for the past year to make an album, which I wanted to do a year ago." That seemed to sum it up.
"OK, so what sort of a deal are you looking for?" rapped Steve.
Damian gulped because this kind of question was out of his scope, however, he needn't have been worried, because the final word was accompanied with a twist of the head in Ted's direction.
"Basically, three albums over the next three years, with an option for a further two, advance against royalties to cover production costs and a bit of subsistence for Damian while he gets it together. I've done a lot of product development myself and I think there's no doubt that Damian's a class act, on the way up." Hell that sounded good.
"I listened to your demos Damian, I wonder if you've got anything more commercial up your sleeve?"
'Don't be a fig! I don't record commercials, I record folk songs.' Gulp.
"Right, well I'm a folk singer. I'm not, I wasn't really, intending to make singles as such, but, well, you never know your luck. I mean Dylan wasn't expecting to write singles was he, but look at 'Like a Rolling Stone', you'd never have thought that would be played non stop all last summer would you?"
"Good point Damian," said Steve with the tone of someone who was not convinced either by the argument or Bob Dylan.
"But Dylan, I'd say he's only got a limited life span, wouldn't you Ted? I mean, he's not going to be a Sinatra or a Dean Martin? He's here now, but will he be here tomorrow?" Steve shook his head morosely and lit a cigar.
The conversation continued in boring tin-pan-alley type music industry mumbo-jumbo for another half hour in which Damian almost fell asleep and then Steve suddenly glanced at his watch, slapped his thighs, stood up, stretched out his hand first to Damian and then to Ted,
"Well it's been great seeing you again Ted. Give my regards to your Dad when you see him. Damian, it's been great to meet you. I liked your Don Quillie the other month. He seems to like you too. That could be good, useful. You need a Don Quillie on your side, weird guy that he is, with material like yours. I'll call you in a day or two and let you know if we can work something out. When are you ready to go into the studio Damian?"
Gulp. "Oh, right away. No problem, right away. I've got even more stuff since the last demo."
"Ok, well, great lunch guys. See you around."
That was it.
"So what do you think?" asked an anxious Damian in the taxi on the way back to Ted's office.
"I think he likes you. I think you made a great impression, great! I think he'll buy. I don't think he'd've seen us if he wasn't interested in buying, and seeing us was just the icing on a deal done."
"Whoo, that sounds positive," said Damian. "Well I can't wait to hear."
Ted's heart said the same thing, otherwise, Damian would be trying to speak to him every day for ever.
* * *
Patsy and Sheila came back to the flat with Bertie and when eventually Damian stopped talking about his 'incredible day' with Steve Everest, who was really important and had signed so-and-so and so-and-so and someone else and then so-and-so, and really liked him and really thought his stuff was great and the album was going to be amazing, discovered the parcel from Italy.
They tore open the wrapping amid shrieks and giggles and were astonished to find two further sub parcels inside, one addressed to each of them.
Ongoing inspection revealed at least half a dozen pairs of 'the most faantastic' shoes in each parcel. Miraculous, was the fact that each of the sets of shoes were in correct sizes for their respective feet. Not only that, but each was so totally different from the other that there could be no possibility of the slightest jealousy or confusion about whose was whose.
The note inside was addressed to all of them. It read,
"To my beautiful English girls and Damian who bakes the most delicious ciabatta with those nice black olives that we can buy in Soho! My wishes for your happiness. See you when I show my winter collection in London in June! Guilio."