Chapter 27

The cri de coeur

Next day, with thick heads all round, we were chauffeured by Heinz and Suzi to Dortmund, the twin town of Leeds. It was all too easy to see why the two towns were twinned - this German conurbation was just as pock-marked and ugly as its English counterpart. En route, Xero would normally have been enthusing about our luxurious transport. If this was a normal day, he would have been full of droll observations, nudges and winks. But it was no normal day.

©barbara christina wuellenweber

Today he sat pensively, jealously guarding his innermost thoughts. The vivid visions that had disturbed him the previous day were now returning to haunt him. As we pulled up outside that night's venue, Xero broke his silence to observe that an inordinate number of the people passing by looked somewhat Neanderthal.

"Zis is hardly surprising," volunteered Schnaffel with his cheeky grin plastered across his billiard ball head, "Ze Neanderthaler region is only just down ze road a few kilometres, ne? Mankind has been around here for quite a while! "

It turns out to be the dream venue: A bar/café with a hall attached. There's this tape of Sidney Bechet "Live in New York 1939-49" playing almost surreally in the background. The proprietor of this emporium of perfection is stood behind the bar, absent-mindedly polishing glasses. His name is Peter. The hiss and aroma of espressos being made fills the air and a huge Works poster fills up a large portion of one wall. "Latest UK sensation" in big letters! Peter serves us all with therapeutic doses of caffeine (turkish-style) and scrumptious pastries and doesn't even so much as bat an eyelid when we pass a joint around. This really is about as good as it gets.

"You look jolly," I say sarcastically to Slingsby, passing him the giant-sized spliff. "Here, get your lips around this, it might cheer you up. What's your problem anyway? It's not often we get to play venues as good as this."

" Ugh, I guess I just overdid it last night"

" ..and the night before that, and the night before that. You should...."

"Look, if you're going to lecture me, you can just fuck off. Don't think you can fool me. I know you're in league with Sally to get me to behave."

"I wouldn't dream of lecturing you," I countered. "I just came over to tell you that you're needed for the sound check - and look lively, there's a bloke from some magazine called SPEX wanting to do an interview with you when you've finished the sound check and dinner."

"Can't the others do it? I just don't feel like talking to anyone today."

"Nope. He wants to talk to the one and only Xero Slingsby. But just try to put a bit of thought into what you say to him. We don't want a repeat of last night's fiasco. You lot raving on about Junk music being a reference to smack is hardly diplomatic. I'm all for stringing them along and having a laugh at their expense, but let's not get fucking arrested eh?"

"BAH, HUMBUG - They'll write whatever they want to write anyway, no matter what we say."

©barbara christina wuellenweber

The thudding and crashing of the drums and bass interrupt our conversation. The sounds of the instruments are punctuated by "Doktor" Schnaffel calling out instructions from the mixing desk. Xero saunters over to his box of tricks and fits a new reed before disappearing into the Herren to warm up. The loud, reverberating scales that emanate from the toilets bring the first few expectant faces to the doors at the back of the hall, keen to get a sneak preview of this wild new English band about whom they have heard such intriguing whispers.

When Xero emerges and the three of them run through a few numbers for Schnaffel's benefit, it appears as though last night's confrontation has borne fruit. They are once more operating in unison. They practise their new Mahler tune, which is surprisingly well suited to the Works' treatment. I sit and wonder what the composer would have made of it. These sound checks are the band's main practice sessions these days. Quite often they are more creative than the actual gigs. I always felt privileged to be present, one of only a lucky few to witness their artistic intimacy.

©barbara christina wuellenweber

"If only the public could hear this" I enthuse to Schnaffel, but he is too immersed in his job of getting the mix "just so".

"If the public could hear it, then it wouldn't be what it is" comes the remark from over our shoulders. It is the svelte Suzi, and as usual, in her succinct way, she's hit the nail on the head. Heinz meanwhile dons his headphones and carries on with his frantic knob twiddling. His forehead becomes furrowed and his eyebrows quizzical as his eyes dart around the flashing mixing desk.


The climax to the Mahler number echoes around the empty hall and they embark on their Art Ensemble of Chicago routine, belching forth primaeval improvised noises from some Neanderthal swamp. The culmination of the sound check comes when Schnaffel signals the "OK" and Slingsby's saxophone, swallowing a brand new Neumann mike whole, emits the most disturbing elongated honk. It is the sort of noise an ocean liner makes when entering a busy harbour in thick fog.

Schnaffel's face is a picture. He dives for the controls on his mixing desk and starts to fret over his expensive microphone. He doesn't need to worry: The microphone is OK, but it isn't going to be needed tonight.


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