The old man stepped out of the black-hack taxi onto the pavement of Sauchiehall street. In his right hand he held a flyer which read: Battle of the Bands Sat 13th of November 8pm The ABC 2, in his left he carried an electric-guitar case.
He wore a dark grey suit which although quality, had obviously seen better days. It hung like loose grey skin off his rounded shoulders, drowning his small frame and giving him -- from the neck down -- the look of a child playing dress-up in his dad’s clothes. But this was his own suit and when he’d last worn it, it had both fitted him and the style of the time.
As the taxi pulled away, he adjusted the tilt of his black fedora, revealing a pair of cobalt blue eyes and a clump of silver hairs beneath its rim. He pulled a silver pocket-watch from his waistcoat, checked its report, then put it away again; tucking the fob chain it hung from out of sight. Shuffling the twenty yards to the entrance he looked like he’d strayed from the set of the Godfather and a guitar was the last thing you’d expect to find in his case.
The ABC 2 was an old movie house (The ABC) converted into a venue for live music, with the silver screen supplanted by a stage. It had kicked around the Glasgow horizon for fifty years until eventually going under to competition from the large cinema chains which had left no room for small independents. Two doormen loitered at the entrance, one large and overweight (what are the chances of that?) and one conspicuously small. Both wore the universal bouncer-uniform of black trousers and bomber jacket.
“How’s it gawn, granda?” said the fat one. “Are ye competing in the battle of the bands cos the judges hate Sinatra?”
The small one -- not to be outdone -- chipped in “An fore ye ask there’s nae concessions fur pensioners.” They both laughed, like the idiots they were. He gave no answer or reaction, just walked past them to the booth, passing the girl a ten-pound note in exchange for his ticket.
The solid oak floors would have at one time resonated with the click of his heels, but as it was his bradykinetic shuffle bore no witness to his passing, as he moved unannounced through the entrance hallway. The old man moved across the foyer and entered the auditorium. On the stage were three young men; one tuning his base guitar, one tinkering with a drum kit and the third struggling to count beyond two into a microphone.
The room was sparsely littered with bodies mostly in their teens or twenties. It was easy to pick apart the bands from the spectators. They were more animated and jumpy, nervously scanning the room guestimating the threat posed by their competitors. Round-eyed -- most looked like they had partaken of a lengthy pre-gig warm up in Starbucks.
The old man went to the bar and asked the child behind it for a single-malt whiskey. She was short and slim with bobbed brown hair. She wore a black T-shirt with ABC 2 in cheap flaking red print across the front and the badge on her right breast exclaimed her as Marie. It was an ill-fitting uniform, but in all the right ways.
“Tell me, Marie -- are you of an age to be selling whiskey?” His voice was a rasp, with Glaswegian brogue in there no doubt, but something else laced his accent. She made to speak and then hesitated, calculating if this suited man was some sort of employment inspector. Then, seeing his gaunt face, speckled with liver spots, realised he must be at least twenty years past retirement.
“Mare so than you are of an age tae be drinkin it.”
He smiled and looking up, said “Touché” The light in those blowtorch-blue eyes betrayed nothing of his age. He looked down at his whiskey, releasing her from his gaze. “Any good bands tonight?”
It was only then that she glanced past the fedora on the bar to see the guitar case propped against a stool. “The Twilight Mars Bars are playin…they’re good and Liquid Soap ur awright…so ur Badger Bob and The Moondogs. The cash’ll prob’ly go to wan o they three, the rest are kidding themselves on if they think they’re in with a shout.” She couldn’t help but smile as he shook his head, nursing his whiskey and pondering the names.
“In my day, Marie…people used their own name, you know like John Smith and if there was a band, it was…tonight John Smith with…The John Smith Band.”
She smiled, apparently warming to him. “How did ye get from gig to gig back then afore they invented the wheel?”
He returned her smile and glanced at his black spit-shined shoes. “Feet were around even when I was a kid and I’ve worn out enough leather for two long lifetimes,” He paused on a memory and then continued. “If I could give you one piece of advice, Marie…it would be…take care of your feet. I’d like to see The Twilight Mars Bars try hobo-touring, probably sell their guitars for a bus ticket home to mummy within a week.”
There was a hiss of static over the house PA and the host for the evening’s competition said. “Hello Glasgow!” Holding up his arms in a rock salute, fingers contorted into some symbol, half expecting a rousing applause. He just looked like a forty-year-old man playing at Spiderman. There was a vague mumble of acknowledgement from the crowd, which had filled out a bit but was in no danger of breaking any venue laws on capacity.
Marie turned back to the old man before her; although emaciated it was etched in every line of his face that he’d done a few deeds in his day. “Whit’s your name then? And don’t say John Smith.”
The old man smiled, then gave her one last flash of those blue eyes. “I’ll see you a bit later…Marie.” With that, he turned and drifted into the crowd, guitar case in one hand and shot glass in the other.