I Turned Down U2
© Copyright 2018 by Laura Geall
This is a biographical piece Laura wrote about her father.
Three of us lean
over his disconcertingly immobile body. Brian’s skin is shining
with sweat, matching the newly cleaned floor of the main Student
Union bar that half of his face is pressed against. The stench of
booze is emanating from his pores, competing with the smell of
His mouth moves and incoherent, drunken ramblings seep out. The floor, the thing he is talking to, has no idea what he’s saying. And it’s not just because it’s inanimate laminate, it’s because he’s making no sense.
“Come on mate, you’ve got a show to perform, you need to get up.” I try to pull him up by his shoulders, but he’s a dead weight.
I’m exhausted from trying and collapse against a window where I can see my lecture theatre in the distance. Only 13 hours ago I was sitting my Accountancy exam in there. The same room I’ll be in for my Financial Tax exam in 37 hours’ time.
In a joint effort, the three of us carry him by his limbs towards the Bangor Student Union concert hall, where a large crowd of rowdy students can be heard chanting “We Want The Sweet” on repeat. The rest of the band are already on stage and have been playing the opening chords of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ for a couple of minutes, exchanging worried glances because of their missing singer.
We carry Brian the long way round, to the back of the stage, so no one will see and give him a shove through the curtain, praying he’ll stay upright.
A miracle happens the instant his silver platform boots hit the stage. Somehow, he recognises the chords that are playing, and his movements go from shaky stumbling to steady swaying and his previously inconceivable grunts become note-perfect, lyric-perfect vocals.
His arms are outstretched, warmly opening himself up to the crowd. The spotlight means that all I can see, peering in from the side of the stage, is a cross-shaped silhouette. The wine coursing through his veins has turned to water and he is standing there, resurrected from his self-induced alcoholic coma as Brian Connolly: Rock God.
A feeling of achievement moves through my body, along with the vibrations from the heavy bass, as I become aware of the disaster we’ve just averted. I forget about my upcoming exam as well as the one that I had today. I’m lost in the moment of music and that’s what rock is really about.
Later, as Brian and the rest of the band leave the stage, I hear the crowd calling for an encore.
“We Want The Sweet. We Want a Sweet. You Want a Sweet. Do you want a sweet?” I’m jolted out of my reverie by a colleague shaking my shoulder. She’s pushing a bowl of jelly beans towards me and asking if I want a sweet before the meeting starts.
I wave my hand in a gesture of ‘No, thanks’ and I hear a crack as the plastic bottle that I’ve been squeezing in my hand pops back into place. Out of the window, I catch a glimpse of Rockefeller Plaza in mid-town Manhattan where I am now on a work trip. I look down 12 floors at the security guards outside who are controlling a huge crowd of high-pitched, screaming girls.
There’s a stage in the middle of the courtyard below, but I have no idea who’s playing. Probably some boy band who have churned out a few meaningless hits to impress their teeny-bopper fans and will be unknown to the world in a few years’ time.
There’s some commotion on the ground and the security guards swarm towards it, with their neon High-Viz jackets giving them the power to propel themselves through the throng of people.
Crowd control these days is so much better than when I was a student. No one gets hurt and cups of water get passed to the overexcited fans like it’s some sort of tea party. When I used to go to festivals, the only “drink” being “distributed” were thousands of plastic bottles filled with dark yellow liquid that were thrown randomly into the sky, spraying the acrid contents over everyone like a sprinkler watering the grass.
“Are we all ready to start?” My eyes focus back into the room and into the present. Better brace myself for staring straight ahead for the next three hours, concentrating on the guest speaker, or on the letters and numbers sitting on the pieces of paper in front of me.
I remember when my daughter used to call my business trips ‘work holidays’. I think she imagined me meeting colleagues for drinks in Times Square or having casual tête-à-têtes with clients in the Russian Tea Room, when actually it’s just the same as my work in England, but with a different post (sorry, zip) code.
“Daddy, what do you do for your job?” my daughter asked me, back when she was writing a report on what I do for a living in primary school.
I tried to simplify my role of a Risk Manager for the ears of an eight-year-old by saying, “I work with hedge funds. I decide which ones we should give money to, and which ones we should not.”
“But Daddy, Grandad was a gardener so he worked with hedges, but you work in London. There are only pavements there so there can’t be very many hedges to give away.”
I would love to have told her instead that my job was as a roadie for various rock bands, like I did when I was at Bangor University. If I was telling her about my student days, I could explain that I worked with the great Phil Lynott, lead singer of Thin Lizzy, a few months before he died. I could say that not only was it my job to help set-up for the bands and, every once in a while, drag a lead singer onto the stage after seeming too drunk to perform, I also helped book the artists that played there. Once, I turned down U2. Yep, I refused to throw Bono a bone by letting his band play at our Student Union before they got famous. Instead, I get to play a game at parties called “Guess who I rejected back in the 1980s?” They had offered to play for £400, and between when I said no and the date they would have appeared, they became massive. Instead, we hired The Pretenders, who cancelled on us so we were stuck with a novelty girl band called Toto Coelo who had had a one-hit wonder called ‘I Eat Cannibals’.
I could also have told her about the time I called Gary Glitter a “fat bastard.” He was doing a comeback tour at universities in the 1980s and his Bangor show was sold out. Gary appeared at the start of his set in a white leotard, which was not a good look for someone so overweight. After descending the steps, he decided to jump onto the stack of speakers roped together at the side of the stage, and his weight pushed them over by about 30 degrees. Ten of us road crew members quickly ran to the side of the stack to hold it up. We were all shouting, “Get off you fat bastard,” but he couldn’t hear us because of the music. Maybe his infamous wig was covering his ears too.
I’m suddenly brought back to the real world by the sound of the music starting outside. High-pitched squealing somehow squirms through the seals of the windows. I look down and see five boys standing on the stage.
“Does anyone know who’s playing?” the Board Manager asks.
“Unfortunately I recognise it, I hear it blaring from my daughter’s room repeatedly each evening. It’s One Direction,” says Bob from the San Francisco office.
He has a horrified look on his face. I imagine he is forced to go to concerts with his children. They tug at his arm to ask him to buy tickets to their latest favourite pop band, then his wife tells him that it’s his turn to go because she went to the last one. As they pull his arm I imagine that it isn’t covered in the sleeve of the navy blue, Ralph Lauren suit that he’s wearing now, it’s bare, displaying just a thick layer of brown hair that mingles with the ink on his skin. I picture a scary looking dagger or a hard-core guitar, snaking its way up his arm towards the sleeve of his AC/DC or Rolling Stones T-shirt, both reminders of bygone days. Life changes us all, and it’s something that we have to accept.
I suppose there’s a point in everyone’s life when they realise they have to grow up. When I graduated from Bangor with my 2.1 in Mathematics & Accountancy and Student of the Year award, I knew I could use my maths skills to do something that would allow me to support a family. To be able to provide for them financially, yet still allow us to spend valuable time together. If I had been a roadie, I’d have more funny stories about Brian Connolly and Gary Glitter, but I might not have the family to share them with.
The only people that don’t have to grow up are the Rock Gods themselves. The Axl Rose’s, the Eddie Van Halen’s and the Steven Tyler’s of the world should, and do, stay young forever.
When the meeting ends, Bob catches my eye. We meet in the foyer to discuss our notes, as planned, but eventually get onto other conversation.
“My daughter is going to be so jealous when I tell her that I essentially got a free One Direction concert.”
“I bet. My daughters will be, but they also love the kind of music I listen to. I think it’s something I forced upon them with my mixtapes filled with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper which I played on loop during road trips when they were growing up,” I tell him.
“Do they go to a lot of gigs with you?”
“Now that they’re in their twenties they do. Last summer, we went on a road trip across Route 66 and we made a 1000 mile detour just to see a Poison and Def Leppard concert.”
“No way!” Bob gets out his personal phone to check the time and I see an AC/DC phone case on it. I knew he was an AC/DC man.
“I’ve got to get going Bob, I’m seeing Van Halen tonight. The gig is out of town so I’ve booked myself onto a group taxi ride called ‘The Van Halen Party bus’.
He laughs. We shake hands, a firm but friendly shake, two rock fans brought together.
As I head out of the main entrance, slightly dizzy from the tall building and revolving door, I think about all of the concerts that my daughters have joined me for. Initially I dragged them along relatively unwillingly, but now they love it. In return, they introduce me to the music they like. Once, we stood in the same spot for 13 hours at a festival to see Mumford and Sons and The Vaccines on a hot day in July without eating, drinking or using the toilet (I was worried that the plastic bottles of elusive yellow liquid would make a reappearance).
We had queued for hours before that to get to the front, and once we were on the barrier we were clinging to it for dear life. Fans can be lethal in their attempts to get to the front. About six hours in, my daughter started to complain, so to pass the time I repeated some of my stories that I had told them while they were growing up. Like when I and six other friends decided to get on stage and sing with Ozzy Osbourne, grabbing the microphone from him to tunelessly belt out ‘Paranoid’. We weren’t invited up by the Prince of Darkness himself of course, but there were no barriers to keep us off the stage back then.
A yellow cab shoots past in front of me and I stop. I look up and see a large poster advertising Alice Cooper’s next gig, where he’ll be performing at Radio City Hall.
I walk along the pavement (sorry, sidewalk), I think back to when I
took my daughters to see Alice on Halloween in 2010 at the Alexandra
Palace. Their second rock concert. I remember looking over at them,
their eyes shining with excitement at finally seeing this strange man
on stage. My first daughter is tone-deaf and the other got kicked out
of recorder club when she was in Year Two. Neither of them are
musically talented in the slightest, like me, but while none of us
can sing or play, it appears that rock music is hereditary, because
it’s in their blood too.
I have been interested in creative writing since I was ten-years-old, when I joined a writing club and wrote a children’s book. A copy of my story was published and I was invited to attend an afternoon where I read a chapter aloud to the public. Since then, writing and reading has always been my hobby and it is one of the reasons I chose to study English at Bournemouth University in England (where I’m from).
Since university, my piece of flash fiction titled 'Let's Fly Away' was published in The Great British Write Off - Timeless Echoes in 2016, an anthology printed by Forward Poetry. This was part of a competition, where I was shortlisted to the Top 20 out of over a thousand entries. I have also won The Writer's Notebook June 2016 competition with my short story 'Alone'. It was chosen by the Editor and then I won the competition because my story had the most votes on social media. Another short story of mine, 'Mother Nurture' was selected for publication in this year’s Book a Break short story competition and will be published in an anthology in October.