Unless he is a member of an established classical orchestra or some other kind of steady act, the gigging musician’s life is far less glamorous than what people generally expect.
I once belonged to a two-man band that performed in small bars, taverns, pubs and restaurants. Every weekend we lugged a sound system, musical instruments, bags of cables, microphones and other paraphernalia to venues in order to entertain a sometimes ecstatic audience.
Most of the time the crowd took us as a welcome annoyance.
One of the bars we played had an Irish theme. The Rose of Tralee was located in a working-class neighbourhood that was in the process of being gentrified. Small and cozy, it could only sit 50 people, yet boasted 30 different kinds of beer on tap.
Gentrification is the process of turning a working-class neighbourhood into a middle-class haven. First, you buy an old textile factory and you evict the tenants. Then you turn the upper floors into snazzy lofts and condos. Finally you install quaint boutiques and cafés at street level. In a short time, municipal taxes should skyrocket and resale value should increase exponentially transforming you into a nouveau riche.
Connor, the 28-year-old bartender, was a friendly, handsome and muscular man who regaled patrons with stories of his bout as an amateur boxer.
The clientele was a mixture of more or less successfully retired people, upwardly-mobile young professionals with a taste for the exotic, and a healthy dose of pure white trash.
We played old Irish and Celtic songs arranged to sound like pop, punk and rock music.
That particular evening was going well. The audience was participating, making special requests from time to time. Connor was mixing Irish car bombs for customers who seemed to be having a great time.
The Irish car bomb is a beer cocktail. Pour Irish cream in a shot glass over which you float some Irish mist. Delicately rest the full shot glass at the bottom of a half-pint of Irish stout. Drink quickly before everything curdles. Make sure you don’t knock your teeth out with the shot glass.
At a quarter to two, as we were ready to wrap up the evening with a reggae version of Danny Boy, with slightly modified lyrics involving the consumption of weed (“fine herbs from the South of France” as we called it), about 15 people came loudly into the pub, ordering some $300 worth of beer. They were already quite inebriated.
We finished the song with wild applause from the newcomers, said thank you and good night, when one guy who had just come in asked us to play some more:
— You see, we like to have fun and we’re all from the same family: these are my brothers, this is my mother, over there at the bar that’s my sister and her cousin with my uncle, and way back there with the bartender, those are my cousins... HEY GUYS! GET SOME SHOOTERS FOR THE BAND!
So we had a shot of sambuca and started to play a rockabilly version of The rocky road to Dublin.
They all got up to dance, one son was dancing with his mother apparently trying to break every current moral standard. My music partner and I looked at each other, shaking our heads. Two of the cousins were pretending to waltz together while the uncle was dancing with the niece and arguing with her brothers.
At the end of the song, they wanted more music but it was already the last call, so we said we were first going outside for a smoke, hoping that a break would calm them down.
“A smoke? Excellent idea!” said one of the brothers, and the whole family headed out to the patio. I turned off the sound system and my partner and I went for a cigarette on the street.
As soon as we were outside, we heard a commotion. The family members had started a brawl and were throwing plastic patio furniture at each other. Worried about our equipment, we immediately went back inside to see Connor locking the door to the patio and calling the bar owner over the phone. The owner told him he was on his way and to call the police.
We went back outside in time to see the uncle sprawled on the floor. Two of the brothers were spreading his legs and another was holding his arms while his niece was kicking him viciously in the groin. Cousins and brothers were groping at each other ripping their shirts off their backs. There was blood, spilled beer, broken glass and overturned furniture.
People at a neighbouring bar ran over, wanting to join in the heat. One of the brothers stood up and started to wave at them, screaming:
—“STAY OUT OF THIS! THIS IS A PRIVATE RIOT! IF YOU WANT TO FIGHT, GO FIGHT YOUR OWN FAMILY!”
At that moment, a black Mercedes screeched to a halt in front of the bar. The owner of the Rose of Tralee jumped out of the car with a bouncer and rushed inside.
Then a police cruiser arrived. Quickly assessing the situation, the officers immediately called for support. They went in the bar and tried to calm down the owner who wanted to go on the patio and teach the punks a lesson. The owner wouldn’t listen so the constables arrested him, handcuffed him and took him outside.
Within minutes six patrol cars and a paddy wagon had joined in while the violent uproar went on. The male and female officers huddled to discuss a strategy. Finally, two officers were designated to go to the patio, restrain the belligerents one at a time with tie-wraps, and bring them back in front of the Rose of Tralee to be lined up lying face down on the street.
The tie-wrap was invented in 1958 as a binding device to organize electrical wires and cables in aircrafts. Soon enough other uses were found and tie-wraps are now popular as cheap restraints in many countries.
As we were observing all that from outside, I saw one of the brothers, shirtless and bloodied, helping his mother jump over the patio fence so they could leave before being arrested. The uncle was lying on the floor, seemingly unconscious and holding his crotch.
Within half an hour the law officers had gathered all the remaining hooligans and were kneeling on the street to interrogate them.
My partner and I decided this might be a good time to tear down our equipment, gather up our gear, and leave.
When we went to Connor, the bar tending amateur boxer, to collect our wages, he was sobbing uncontrollably beside his cash register.
Samedi prochain : médecine dentaire cosmopolite