PREFACE to Chronicle the First
THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF BILLY'S G STRING
BY PUNK SANDERSON
All rights reserved. The Vicar LTD
The publishers have asked me to explain why a shy and retiring man, like myself, might allow his life to be used as material for a book and TV show. I myself wonder how it could be otherwise. How could a man who pays lip service to lofty notions of Integrity, Justice and Art avoid such a project once it presented itself? There are times when the creative impulse takes us into its confidence and beckons us forward. This is one of those times, and we must trust the process. Or not.
And yet, even as I write this, I realise that these self same publishers may not like my reasoning. They may prefer to believe in a devious plot, as expounded recently on several websites, that will make me the cruel, heartless, raging venal leader of a Vicarious empire, designed to enhance the sale of Vicar barbie dolls to an unsuspecting public. I reply that, if such a plot involves the flow of unhealthily large sums of money in my direction, I am happy to consider it.
And what of the writing itself. In a post modern world, there is no one privileged position. I do not always agree with Punk's point of view, but they are his opinions, honourably held, which will, I trust, be received with generosity and goodwill. In over 30 years of jumping in and out of vans, travelling the world, playing and recording music in the most unlikely and inappropriate venues, I have yet to find a book that accurately describes the industry in which I earn my daily crust – an industry which encompasses the very best and the very worst of humanity, its excesses, greed, jealousies, capacity for infinite beauty, strange attraction to mind altering substances, big people with big egos and even bigger erections. And that's just the good guys.
Some of Punk's writing may touch on these truths, much of it will not, but I trust it will always be entertaining.
At the time of writing, Punk's simplistic direct prose has yet to be "moulded" at the hands of an editor. I now realise that this process is to be feared as much as the A & R man at a record label, who loves your album, but suggests you "rework it with different musicians", or that he "cannot promote your album without a single". I therefore have no idea if, when you turn this page, you will be greeted by Punk's six rules, which I love so much, or by a new sanitized beginning. This is a creative process. The outcome is therefore necessarily uncertain. The book, which you hold within your carefully washed and manicured hands, may by now be a best seller or an abject failure. That is for the future. We must all begin somewhere, and Punk's initial verbal onslaught awaits you over the page.
The Vicarage 5th November 2001
God I am going to hate writing this book! If I am going to spend the next three weeks, including Christmas and New Year, tapping away at this computer, then may I respectfully request that we set some ground rules before we start :
RULE ONE : There will be no rewriting. Life is too short.
RULE TWO: No complaints about my bad grammar, language etc. The world may be full of better writers, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen even Enid Blyton (well, Noddy is a classic) – but if you want stories about the Vicar, I fear I may be as good as it gets.
RULE THREE: I am obviously going to have to change the stories slightly for legal reasons. So some of this will have to be completely pulled out of my arse, as it were. I don't want anyone complaining that some of it is completely impossible, or that the dates don't make sense, or that such and such a character died in an earlier chapter, so that they can't be brought back to life. I will keep it as close to the true stories as I can, but I have no more desire than the next man to spend my life in jail for libel.
RULE FOUR: I promise to avoid all that ridiculously flowery language that put me off books when I was at school.
RULE FIVE: I don't care if you fart, wipe your nose, or spill coffee all over yourself while you are reading this book, so I reserve the right to do all of them while writing it
RULE SIX: As Monty Python would have said, there is no rule six. But if I think of one I will put it in later.
Onto the introductions. The act of naming. "Very important", the Vicar would say. "After all, would the Beatles have been so successful if they had been called the Quarrymen?" My newly invented name, for the purposes of this book, is Punk Sanderson. I am not sure if I can get used to being a "Sanderson", but Punk suits me very well. Better than my real name. I work for the Vicar, of whom who you must have heard, otherwise I imagine you would have chosen a different book to keep you company on your flight, in your hospital bed, or on the throne (where as you know we all do our best work). And, my God, you had better plan to read it, as I am buggered if I am going to all this work, for it to be used for propping up furniture or wrapping chips!
The Call, with capital letters, came at 9.43 pm (the Vicar is very precise about such things) on March the something (And I'm not).
The ever faithful Siobhan, resident angel and dealer in intravenous caffeine and endless cups of Earl Grey tea, looked inquiringly at the Vicar, who shook his head.
"I only take calls from my wife and direct communications from God".
He was growing irritable. I knew the signs. Cigarette burns in the carpet, broken whisky bottles on the floor, cocaine in the sliders on the mixing desk, rubber dolls in the corner of the studio, televisions being thrown out of hotel windows, cars being driven into swimming pools…
No, I jest, dear readers. No such excitement here. Just hard work. Albums are always difficult in the early stages, when their character has to be established. They then get easier in the middle. But at the end, when the Vicar has to dot the i's and cross the t's (and finish the album within the allotted time scale and budget), tempers always get a little frayed. And we were well into the frayed stage.
Siobhan could obviously not persuade the person on the phone to go away, and she looked despairingly at the Vicar.
"Will this call make my life richer and better?" he asked, in that calm, authoritative, slightly teasing manner of his.
"Will it nourish me? Will I look back in years to come and say "Thank you God" for that call?".
As he said the word "God", he looked up and raised his right hand to his heart as if beseeching the gods – actually a better description would be a cricketer staring up at a high ball with his hand raised to make the catch, but I fear that it would not have the religious overtones that the gesture obviously intended.
Siobhan knew better than to try to answer such questions. She simply waited calmly with her hand across the mouthpiece, and looked across at him, waiting to see if he was planning to come and answer the phone.
"And sikerly she hadde a lecherous eye:
Full small y-pulled were her brows two
And though were bent and black as any sloo."
"Chaucer. The lucky wench", I thought. "He only quotes that when he is in a good mood. He is planning to come to her rescue".
As I predicted, he moved over and picked up the phone.
" Hello, Real World Vicarage..."
It was my first time in the main control room at Real World, the Holy Grail of recording studios. Peter Gabriel's accountant apparently advised him to spend no more than half a million or so on a studio and he obligingly spent at least ten times that. Well, you know what they say about musicians, "Big Studio, Small ****". (No. no. Don't sue me, Peter, I'm only joking.) There's a great photograph of it on the web (the studio, not Peter's ****) at Realworld.co.uk. I am not sure what the two large red and blue balls in the photograph are meant to symbolize – some deep artistic meaning that completely bypasses my inferior intellect – but if you imagine that the two balls spontaneously change into people, with the obligatory puff of smoke, then…puff…I am the red ball to the left of the mixing desk, and…puff…the Vicar, with the receiver to his ear, is the blue ball on the right (which conveniently matches our politics).
The person on the other end of the phone evidently began by saying "May I disturb you?" or somesuch. Always a mistake.
"It is a little too late for such thoughts now. You have, of course, already disturbed me by bringing me to the phone, as you well know."
A pause while the unfortunate victim tried to explain himself.
"Your timing is as impeccable as ever. You could not have chosen a more inconvenient or inopportune time, if you had devoted years of well focussed practice to the art of making poorly timed phone calls. Which, come to think of it, is roughly how you make your living, is it not?"
He had a roguish grin on his face and was clearly enjoying himself. Another pause as the person presumably wriggled on the other end of the phone
"I think we know each other well enough to dispense with the formalities and "cut to the chase" as it were. Whoever is paying your bills will thank me for every minute that I save them. What are lawyers charging now. £5 a minute? That means you can probably earn a £1 just by sneezing - "
A longer pause as he listened.
" - Well, if you wish to see me in person, you clearly know where my person is to be found. I have been here for - " he looked at his watch, "fourteen days, ten hours and -" he paused while he did a quick calculation. "three minutes, and expect to be here for a further - ", pausing again "7 days and 12 hours. It is a public place. I cannot prevent you from visiting."
This answer was not the one that the other person wanted.
"It is however quite impossible for me to leave and come to London. I have commitments that I must honour. A concept that you would perhaps find difficult to understand…"
"…Come and see me here if you must. I do not even have to consult my diary to know that at two o'clock in the morning, I was planning to be safely tucked up between some fine white starched linen sheets. Another of those little English pleasures that is gradually being eroded by the contagion of the European Community, with its damn continental duvets."
He deliberately mispronounced the word "doovett", not "doovay".
"Punk and I will simply keep working and we will await your arrival. I cannot promise that I will be anything other than a feeble, dribbling wreck by the time you arrive, but that, I fear, is a chance you will have to take."
He handed the phone back to Siobhan, who stood still as if awaiting her punishment. He enjoyed her discomfort.
So did I. I had not put with years of tongue lashings from the Vicar, to allow her to get away scot free with a near mortal sin like allowing someone to disturb the Vicar while he was working.
"Ah yes. The lovely Siobhan, who recommended that I take the call. What is to be done with you?" he asked himself.
"May God sustain her in her honour
she deserves to be queen of all Europe.
In her is great beauty without vanity
Youth without wantonness or folly
Virtue guides her every action"
More Chaucer. He bowed to her, as if greeting a princess.
How did she get away with it? I would have been crucified for interrupting him like that. Remind me to invest in a pair of big tits.
"Thank you, Siobhan. You were right to insist that I took that call. At one of my seminars, we would describe that telephone call as a pointed stick."
She looked confused. Who wouldn't when faced with a grown apparently sane man describing a telephone call as a pointed stick?
"You are familiar with the concept of the pointed stick?" he asked.
Not surprisingly, she shook her head, no. She was not going to escape entirely without punishment. She would be forced to sit attentively and respectfully while the Vicar espoused the lesser known "doctrine of the pointed stick".
"A pointed stick helps you to focus on the real world and the task in hand. We should be thankful for that call in the same way we should be thankful for the loud police siren that disturbs us as we make our way peacefully towards Starbucks on a sunny afternoon. The siren completely ruins your day, and generally pisses you off. But it also wakes you from your normal catatonic state and helps you to focus on the task in hand."
Siobhan was doing a good impression of a schoolgirl in her first latin class. Bambi's soon to be ex father trapped in the headlights, as it were (sorry, no florid descriptions. Rule four).
"… Just like a baby crying." The Vicar was continuing. "If ever you need to concentrate hard, I suggest you give a nearby baby a good poke. You are then forced to concentrate hard to shut the crying from your mind. So let us shut all distractions from our minds, and concentrate on Diva's backing vocals."
Which is exactly what he did.
You can tell from this lecture that the Vicar neither has, nor will ever have, any children. He is inclined to treat children a little like dogs – something to be patted and kept on a leash. Nor has he ever had a real pointed stick shoved up his arse. Although I have often been sorely tempted, especially at moments like this, when he insisted on swatting aside all my attempts to probe him about the phone call, while giving his full concentration to getting the perfect performance from Diva.
Are you interested in The Vicar's production techniques? Probably I suppose. It's the sort of trainspotter information that people like to see in books. So let's start by getting one thing straight. He does not think of himself as a musician. In fact, he famously left the first band he was in, saying that having two non musicians (him and the singer) in the same band was too much of a liability. But he has perfect taste, and an uncanny knack of finding the perfect performance.
"We need something just here", he might say to Diva, "High and soft, like clouds floating past". He would conduct with his hands, giving the sense of what he wanted. Together they would write the part, until, at the perfect moment, he would put the microphone in front of her, and capture the very birth of the music on tape. And piece by glorious piece, like a jigsaw, the finished song would emerge.
Fortunately - as I was still waiting to interrogate him about the mysterious phone call - the Vicar is equally famous (and well paid) for the speed at which he works - painting in what he calls "broad brush strokes" – capturing the excitement of a piece of music without worrying too much about the finer details. "Impatience is a virtue", as he likes to tell me. Even so, it seemed a long while before he and Diva took a break, and he swivelled his chair round to face me.
" Well who was it then?" I asked, "You are going to tell me, aren't you?"
" Who was what then?" He disapproved of my abuse of his beloved English language.
"The telephone call?" I asked again.
"Oh yes. The mysterious telephone call. A brief pause to gather our thoughts, perhaps."
He paused, breathing in and out very slowly, and then smiled, and shouted "Yes!" pumping his left hand into the air – a little like a Nazi salute, but with his fist clenched. This was a ritual he liked to perform before beginning anything. An act of commitment.
I looked at him,
"It was Richard Branson." He said smiling.
" Richard Branson?!" I gasped. "And he is driving down to meet with you at two o'clock in the morning?!"
" No sorry, Richard Breamore. I always get the two confused."
He was enjoying stringing me along.
"Was it really Richard Breamore?" I asked.
"And why not? He will be here shortly. It won't take him much more than an hour and half to get here from London at the speed his chauffeur drives. Time for a quick cup of tea before he gets here." He smiled. For once, even he was joking about the cup of tea.
Richard Breamore. Although he is not much known outside the music business, this was about as close to a direct communication from God as you can get. He was both the manager and the record company boss behind PowerGirl, who you will definitely know about. Is there anyone who does not own one of their Cds? What could Breamore want with the Vicar?
"Does he want you to produce one of their records? It's not the sort of thing that you normally handle." I asked, becoming more than a little excited.
"And what exactly, pray tell, is the sort of thing that I normally handle? I trust you are not trying to pigeonhole me."
I avoided the question completely.
"Well does he?"
"Well does he what?"
"Does he want you to produce for them" I asked again.
"I very much doubt it," he said. "They might end up sounding musical and that would never do. If I did make a record for him, he would certainly not like the result and would therefore definitely try to stop it being released. Not unlike the record I made for Andy S****. Have I told you that story?"
I found myself shaking my head, no.
Why did I do that? I had heard that story several times before. Was I afraid to point out that his memory was imperfect and that he should know that I have heard the story?
The Vicar has that effect on you. There is something about him that is so powerful that you find yourself following his chosen path. I knew that he wanted to tell the story, and I was not strong enough to simply nod my head, and tell him that I heard it before. What a limp dick, I hear you thinking! Is this a man or a mouse? I feel my manhood shrinking even as I write.
"Andy asked me to produce a record for him. At the time he was managed by Ronnie C****".
As he said his name, he lent over and pretended to spit on the floor. (apologies for all the asterisks, but I can certainly not use the real names without risking a major law suit. Ronnie C**** is now head of one of the major record labels, and might not appreciate such frank stories)
"I doubt that Ronnie was ever in favour of the project, but he allowed it to go ahead. We made a superb record – one of the only ones that truly captures Andy's essence on record. Ronnie, of course, hated it. He felt it would ruin Andy's career. It was not sufficiently contrived for his tastes. He did everything he could to prevent its release, and he managed to delay it for over three years."
"I have no doubt that Richard Breamore would react in exactly the same way to any record I might make with PowerGirl. Of course, far from ruining Andy's career, it was the record that could have saved it. It is now widely regarded as a classic."
He looked at me to see my reaction to the story. It occurred to me that he knew I had heard it before. Was he inwardly laughing at me, wondering how many times I would be willing to sit through the same story, before I finally mustered the courage to tell him that I heard it before?
"What was the call about then?" I asked again, putting such disturbing thoughts to the back of my mind.
"Just a social visit," he said, unhelpfully.
"At three o'clock in the morning?!"
"And why should not two old enemies take a night cap together?" he was smiling.
" I didn't know that you knew him."
"There is much that you do not know, my fine fellow. You evidently did not know that I had produced a record for Andy S***."
He had the same roguish grin on his face that I had seen while he had been talking with Breamore on the telephone.
"Richard and his R&B management company bought out my infamous former manager Malvolio," he again lent over and pretended to spit on the floor, "who I believe you met that fateful day in Amsterdam some seven years ago, when I dispensed with his services and handed him over for insurance fraud. Did I ever tell you that Malvolio and I shared a room at Cambridge?"
I shook my head no.
"Actually, that is not strictly true. I never moved in. I swapped an exquisite suite of rooms in a seventeenth century building, overlooking the backs, one of the best views in England, for a cramped room on the ground floor of a hostel, overlooking a pavement, a busy street and Our Price record store".
"But you want to know about Breamore. And I am afraid that I cannot satisfy your rampant curiosity as I have absolutely no idea why he is so anxious to see me. Unless to pay me my outstanding publishing royalties. Apparently something happened tonight when Billy G was on the television. That is all I know. We will have to bide our time. All will no doubt be revealed at the right time."
And with that he got up and stretched himself out on the studio floor to rest. There he was, lying full length, with his eyes closed, as peaceful as a baby, while I twitched round the room.
Perhaps I should say a brief word about this habit of lying down on the floor, as it will no doubt occur again. In fact, it occurs most days, as it is part of his daily ritual. The Vicar never wastes time. If there is a pause when he cannot be working, he lies on the floor and meditates. Or perhaps he sleeps. How can you tell?
I, of course, have dedicated my entire life to exactly the opposite – the fine art of time wasting : playing pocket billiards, admiring my face being distorted in the windows on the tube, playing air saxophone to Rat Trap by the Boomtown Rats, assessing the fire exits of strip bars, staring at the porn magazines on the top shelf of the newsagents, while pretending to look at the music magazines, watching the other people who are also assessing the same porn magazines while pretending to look at the same music magazines, and any number of mediocre witticisms which I can't think of right now. It is an art that I can safely claim to have long since perfected.
But even I could not manage the next hour or so without some support. Fortunately, Siobhan offered the perfect, rounded, curvaceous solution. And when the studio door opened and in walked Mr Richard Breamore, he disturbed nothing less than the last throes of my mad passionate fucktacular lovemaking with such a solution - a bottle of brandy.
" Is David here?" he asked, with no pretence that I was anything other than a talking doormat…….