I’d been trying to get a hold of Tony on the side, to ask him how it was going. Like Gordon and I, Tony had left Corby and created the final piece of the expat group. He’d been back in Corby since the Monday. It was now Wednesday and we’d be practicing for the first time tomorrow, before a warm up show in Corby on the Friday. He’d been offline all day today. When he finally got in touch, it only confirmed what I’d suspected. He’d been lying in bed all day, feeling like the devil had taken his soul. When he finally pulled his hungover ass out of bed, around three pm, he’d driven himself over to the KFC two hundred meters away from his hotel, and sat in the car park shaking. Frank had destroyed him the night before with jug after jug of cocktail. It was precisely this that I feared. I hadn’t been drunk in about five years, could I stand firm against the might of Reagan’s charm/demands?
I didn’t really know if I could be arsed with three days of being called a Swedish nonce because I didn’t want to get fucked up. When I first stopped raging on the booze, I thought it was just a period I was going through. I understand how fucked up that sounds...as if cutting back on the booze is some kind of deviant behaviour. But I’ve heard the concern in the voices of old acquaintances and family members when I’ve been back in the UK visiting: “Is Gareth not drinking? Is everything okay?” Fucking mental, when you think about it. I’ve been over five years without a hangover now, though. I simply can’t take them anymore. But more than that, I don’t enjoy the feeling of being drunk, like, properly drunk, which was always the hook before. The buzz of the party almost made up for the feeling of despair the day after. No longer. I still love a good beer, though. Just after the show. And just a couple.
So the plan was to practice all day on the Thursday and then meet up with Jen, Polly, my dad and whoever wanted to tag along from the band, for dinner in the evening. Gordon picked me up at my dad’s house in his splitter, which we’d be taking down to the London show. We drove up to the practice room which was located on the edge of town, in the car park of the Rugby Club, the place where all of my uncles were members and driving forces in the running of the place. It was also the venue for the first Speedhorn show upon reforming a couple of years ago, with the new lineup that didn’t include me, the place which was run by Roddy, The Zombie Hut, he called it, which was actually the old function room. I’ve never seen a show there. I’ve been to a few naff weddings and birthday parties there when I was a kid, though. It was also right behind the cemetery where my mum’s ashes are buried. Mixed feelings as we pulled into that car park.
Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The practice room, or “Practice Pod”, as it was advertised, was actually a steel shipping-container. Fucking tiny. And the only people here waiting, despite the fact we were already a half hour late, were Tony and John, sat in Tony’s car, looking bored. The others were nowhere to be seen. Frank was sorting something out down his yard and Daz had to work until twelve, so wouldn’t be here for another hour or so. The three expats, the ones who actually travelled to get here, first as always.
It was good to get the chance to have a bit of a chinwag with Tony, anyway. I figured he must have been feeling pretty nervous about the upcoming shows. He had barely played guitar since he got his P45 back in 2003, nevermind played a gig. And now he was about to play to a pretty much sold out show at the Electric Ballroom, which holds around fourteen hundred people. If my feelings were mixed, his must have been all over the place! It was good seeing him again. We’d met up on a couple of occasions over the years, at Gordon’s wedding, and a couple of other do’s, and it felt like we were pretty good. I still carried guilt about the way we sacked him from the band, though. And as well as this being a chance to celebrate twenty years of the band, this was something I wanted to do for Tony, as much as anything. We owed him this...
It felt surreal, standing there with the five of them, in that tiny metal box. Looking at them all, Frank’s beaming grin across his coupon, Daz in his work gear, John stoned, it literally felt like the last sixteen years had been erased, that nothing had changed. At all. We didn’t really even say that much to each other before we started, a bit of small talk but nothing else. We just looked at each other, and then said, “Okay, let’s doing the fucking set, then!” If I’m honest, I hadn’t gotten that much of a buzz whilst playing through the old songs at home leading up to this trip. It felt pretty difficult plodding out riffs to songs I wrote almost twenty years ago, when we were in the middle of writing the new Victims album. But when we banged into the intro riff of Deathrow Dogs, which is the same riff for about four minutes, the buzz came back. It was way heavier, and slower than I remember it. In that tiny space it sounded like the pit of hell opening up. I was wondering if Frank was actually going to be able to sing since he was smiling so broadly. In that moment, none of the rest of it mattered. Whatever had passed under the bridge, all the bullshit we’d put each other through, it all washed away.
We got through the entirety of the one hour set with barely a hiccup. Even if I’ve played these songs thousands of times, I was still positively surprised by how well the set clicked. Daz hadn’t played in a band for at least six or seven years, but he was still a hell of a bass player. “He might be a weird cunt, but no one can beat that fucking bass sound!” Frank chirped afterwards in the car park.
It was a beautiful day, defying the time of year, and we sat around on the curb in t-shirts during the break, for the first time having a proper catch up. I had been most nervous about Daz, I think, since he’d turned pretty sour after he quit the band, and he could always be a narky sod when he’s had a drink, even when he hadn’t sometimes... But sitting there with him sober, chatting away as he puffed on a roll-up, was really nice. It was just simple stuff, about what we’re doing with our lives and shit. It hit me then how weird it was that we all had kids now, even John. Daz had been the only one who hadn’t been in contact during the lead up to the show since he wasn’t on any form of social media, there were rumours going around that he’d taken himself off after clocking some stepkid of his or something, but it wreaked of just the normal Speedhorn bullshit gossip led by Reagan, so this really was the first contact of any kind we’d had since he quit the band, apart from a text after my mum had died, which I’d really appreciated. He told me that his mum was on the go now, same bastard disease as always… He seemed to be doing okay, though.
We played through the set one more time and then headed over to the pub just down the road for some lunch. After a pretty cack veggie sausage and mash and a markedly better pint of Greene King IPA, we decided that we didn’t need anymore practice. It had gone way better than expected. One more run through the set tomorrow and then we’d take the stuff down to the White Hart for the warm up show. Daz give me a lift back to my dad’s in his work van and said he’d see me tomorrow. He was having a night in with the family so wouldn’t be able to meet the rest of us down the Weatherspoon’s for dinner later.
The next day, Jen was heading down to London with Polly to meet up with Kev and the rest of the Deptford crew, taking in a nice hotel for the night. I felt kinda jealous to be honest. I’d have rather just done the one show, but I understood that Tony needed the practice. We all needed the warm up gig, in truth. I was probably being overly cocky thinking otherwise. I’d been the same with the question of having a road crew. I’d quite deliberately made the point in our chat group about not wanting any techs on stage. A driver/merch and a sound tech/tour manager I thought was fair enough, given the size of the gig, but I made it quite clear I could manage myself on stage. Bianchi had jokingly reprimanded me, pointing out that, unlike myself, Tony hadn’t been changing strings in pitch black Polish squats for the last ten years.
We met up at the steel box and ran through the set one more time and then packed the van and made our way to the White Hart pub. It had been a long time since I’d set foot in the place, and it had changed a lot since. What used to be the bar was now a fully kitted out venue. I was pleasantly surprised. It was good to see Walpole, one of the old Kettering crew, who would be driving and selling merch, as well Big Jim who is Speedhorn’s tour manager these days. But most of all, Carter. If it was anyone else, I’d have been shocked at them making the journey from LA to Corby to see Speedhorn. Not him, though. He was always as big a fan of the band as he was its manager. It was wonderful to see him again.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do before and after soundcheck. Frank and Daz were already piling into the beers, but I wouldn’t be having one until after the show, and sitting around watching them drink wasn’t all that fun, so Tony, Gordon and I went for a walk around the old village area of Corby, before grabbing a bag of chips for dinner and sitting on a park bench to tuck into them. When we got back there were a few more people buzzing around the place and Walpole was setting up the merch. Much to Daz’s annoyance, he’d hung a rainbow flag above the table. “What the fuck’s he putting that there for?” I asked him what he had against it, to which he replied, “A lot!” I had the feeling he was already on his way, and I could sense that it wasn’t going to get any better. I told him that I thought it was a great flag. He said nothing to that, but the chasm between us was painfully obvious, a chasm that could not be measured in geographical miles alone. He sort of grumbled, and then walked off, a little confused.
Jen had texted me earlier in the day, saying that Polly had gotten a stomach bug and had began puking as soon as they got down to Deptford. What an absolute nightmare. Jen had to make her way across London back to the hotel, comforting Polly and keeping her from throwing up all over herself. I felt so sorry for my girls. You couldn’t make it up. It feels like Polly gets sick every time we come to the UK. Jen was supposed to come to the show tomorrow whilst Polly stayed with our old friends Leon and Lindsey. Leon would accompany Jen to the show and then we’d all head back to their place afterwards. But Jen could not possibly leave Poll if she was sick. I called to check in on them. It wasn’t looking good. I was really hoping she would be better tomorrow.
The pub started filling up quite early on, obviously a lot of old friends and family in attendance. I hadn’t thought about the need for a guestlist, but rumours were going round about half hour after doors that it would soon be sold out and my dad and a couple of other relatives were at some other pub. I was by now acutely grateful for the presence of Big Jim, for he came to the rescue and snuck us a couple of extra wristband passes that he’d found. Unbelievably, my dad seemed to spend most of the gig in the other room with his mates. I don’t know, He’s seen us a bunch of times before I guess, and I understood that his other mates weren’t too keen on paying the tenner to get it. Besides, the room was packed by the time we went on and he could well have popped in at the back for a while.
The gig itself was pretty fun. It was a little strange in the fact that I couldn’t really get a grip of how the crowd was, the stage was deep in an alcove so it kind of felt like we were playing in a boxed off corner of the room, and in front of the stage there was a clearing made by some overly enthusiastic moshing. But the actual playing experience was cool. We played really tight and it sounded good from where I was stood. I wasn’t overcome with any massive high, though. It just felt like a solid gig. It felt exactly like what it in actual fact was, a dress rehearsal for the next day.
It was pretty hot in there after the gig, and I was grateful for a pint, even if it was just pissy lager in a plastic glass. I hung around chatting with some old faces and friends for a while, but the night quickly came to a close after the show was done, the landlord wanting to close up quick sharp. As I was loading the van I met a by now cloudy-eyed Daz at the back doors.
“You enjoy that?” he asked, somewhat curtly.
“Yeah”, I replied.
“You wanna do it again?”
“Well, yeah… tomorrow night, like”, I said, completely aware of where he was going with this.
“Yeah, but after that?”
“No”. That was all I could offer. I had no wish to get into a conversation about it.
Like a lightning bolt from a clear night sky, the reality of this band struck me. It had been a mildly warm, nostalgic trip during the last couple of days, as whenever you jog your memory back over the past you only filter through the good times, but Daz’s shit had brought reality crashing back with a bang. This is how we always treated each other. Not just Daz. All of us. And it fucking sucked. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of good, but the negative shit hit me hard.
So the plan was to be back at the White Hart at eight-thirty for departure. We had an early get-in. The van would be staying put and we’d all have to make our way back to it in the morning. There would be no pick-ups. With the clock closing in on one already, I was more than ready to head home. Frank and a bunch of others were going to hit some cocktail bar. The only thing that surprised me with that was the fact Corby had a cocktail bar. My dad and I took a walk back to my old house, the place I grew up, where he still lives. That walk, often a stagger, I’d taken so many times as a teenager after nights out at Channel 2 in the old village, the place we played our first ever shows with our old bands. I didn’t really think I’d play a show in Corby ever again. I didn’t ever think I’d play a Speedhorn show ever again, to be fair. After tomorrow, I think I could safely say that those two particular chapters would be well and truly closed.