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Chapter 26

Shadows and Hungry Ghosts

The twin spires of Koln Dom, the city's gothic cathedral are a phenomenal presence as you arrive. The vast majority of the buildings around it were bombed flat in the Second World War. But not the Dom - It stood defiantly untouched, two fingers pointed at the skies and the allied bombers.

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As Heinz ferried the band around the city in the plush tour bus, Xero seemed to have ominous storm clouds hanging over him. He was looking out of the window at a city as it had been forty years before. In his fevered imagination the cobbled tram-lined boulevards had columns of tanks rumbling along them. Buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes and ripped apart by shells. Bridges that once straddled the Rhine collapsed half way across the river.

In reality the Cold War was at its height. To Xero, as to myself and many of our contemporaries it often felt that at any blink of an eye, the sirens might wail and the missiles might fly. The ether was electric with fear of a fresh holocaust.

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We were lucky to have Heinz and Suzi's apartment in the centre of the city to retreat to. The couple had decamped to the recording studio on the outskirts of Koln. For our first night in town The Works were booked to play Koln Jazzkeller and the gig seemed to go off pretty well: A large-ish crowd went wild, several journalists covered the show and met the band, and our hosts were well pleased with the amount of alcohol consumed and the good times had by all.


Afterwards, our "entourage" - i.e. (somewhat lamely) the four of us - retired to the appartment armed with copious amounts of Beer, Schnapps and Marijuana. As usual, Xero led the way in the intoxication stakes. Admittedly, he had begun to mend his ways since he shacked up with Sally, but when we went off on tour, he tended to revert to type - and there was bugger all that any of us could do about it.

The conversation around the kitchen table that night quickly degenerated into an argument between the three musicians, something I had never before encountered. I was knackered and had crawled into my sleeping bag in one of those impressively vaulted bedrooms that are a feature of German appartments. From there I could still hear their muffled voices. They were becoming more and more animated.

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Gene was pissed off by Xero's apparent inability to concentrate. The thrust of the drummer's argument went thus: Unpredictability and Random-ness were all very well in their type of music - in the right doses and places, but not when they're half way through their mutually recognised Compositions. Xero's black moods and increasingly erratic behaviour, in a musical sense, had been plaguing them since their arrival on the continent. It was starting to get to the two of them. Of course the audiences never noticed, and the band's discord sometimes even added to the dynamics of their act, especially for their more radical audiences like the ones at Het Damberd. But Xero's antics were even starting to irritate Louis, who was usually the more tolerant of the two.

"Here we are, half way through the Roland Kirk number and you start wandering off in your own little world!"

"Don't worry about us, we're just the fucking rhythm section" snarled Velocette.

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"The thing is Xero, it's happening more and more. It's like you're just not listening to what we're playing," added Louis in a rather more sympathetic tone. "It's a good job the punters have all got cloth ears and haven't got a clue what's going on."

"It's just to keep you both on your toes" ventured Slingsby, trying to lighten the tone. He received only chilly stares in response.

"Alright, I suppose I have been a bit distracted of late. I've been thinking. I reckon there are going to have to be some big changes." He contemplated the nearly empty Schnapps bottle before emptying it.

"I think I might have to be like a snake and shed my skin!" he said, slurring his words


With that, he dragged himself off to bed and his nightly telephone call to Sally. Gene and Louis were left exchanging puzzled expressions and I was left wondering what the fuck was going to happen next. I had invested a great deal of time, effort and the NatWest's money in this new life with The Works and I was hoping like hell that it wasn't all going to fall apart at the seams. It was beginning to feel somewhat unwise to have put all of my eggs in the one basket and I did not like the tone of what I was hearing one little bit.

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In the dark, I could hear Xero on the phone. From his softly spoken, gentle, loving manner, he was obviously missing Sally more than ever.

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