In the queue outside of Hammersmith Palais, Dave and I are more excited than we’ve ever been about seeing a band. T Rex, The Sweet, Slade – we’d seen them all, but tonight was the big one: Heaven Sent. We’d waited months and months for this one, lead singer Brian Cadell was my hero, and I just could not wait to hear him belt out all their classics, like Lovin’ Machine and Smash ‘n Grab.
Even the stench of cat meat and boiled onions from the burger trolley being wheeled past the queue couldn’t overcome our high spirits. As we waited I clutched on to the ticket in my pocket for fear of it being snatched by one of the villainous looking men who ducked around the queue snarling under their voices that they would ‘buy and ticket, sell any ticket’. Everyone always ignores them and you wonder if anyone ever risks buying a ticket from them, but it’s all part of the atmosphere as was eyeing of any girl who walked past to join the end of the line. There was safety in ogling from a train of gig-goers and it seems to me that some of the girls were dressed with being ogled in mind, but the fact remained, as much as Dave and I craved female attention, at 19 if a girl had spoken to us, even to ask the time, we would have crumbled into granules of shyness.
Finally the doors open and we are in, taking our customary position right at the front. You get the best view here, and though you get your eardrums blasted and your body crushed against the barriers by the pogo-ers in the mosh pit behind, it makes you feel alive. There are two support acts to get through – Swash-tikka then HeadKase, both are loud but talentless and no one dances or cheers. After their last song, the lead singer swears at the crowd before leaving the stage to boos and abuse and a surge from the back that gives us the first crush of the evening. Brilliant!
Then there’s the long wait for Heaven Sent. Due on at 9pm, its already half past and the crowd are starting to get restless. The crowd catcall and whistle and the music gets pumped up so loud that every beat throbs through you and know your ears will be ringing tomorrow morning. Any air in the building is strangled by a fug of sweat, Brut and Red Stripe lager and lies heavy in your lungs, percolating through your skin causing your tee-shirt to stick to your back. By 10 the pushing and barging is getting bad tempered and there is a sense that something is going to happen, you just don’t know what it is or how dangerous it might be. It’s the best bit about going to gigs.
Then suddenly, piercing spotlights hit us and in our blindness we can make out the silhouettes of Terry Tonks, Badger and Baz Green walking on stage and then the great Brian Cadell himself to rapturous applause and screaming. The opening bars of Jungle Mayhem crash into the bucking crowd – and we’re off!
Right from the start the band really hit the straps and the crowd is rocking, it’s like a joyous game of human battling tops and I know I will be covered in bruises tomorrow, but who cares! From here I can look up and see the sweat already over Brian Cadell’s thick makeup and look right up his nose. I could almost reach out and touch his glitter boots if there weren’t some seriously big security guards pushing back at the writhing masses.
The maelstrom of the crowd means that you don’t stand next to the same person for very long and in the third song, Gone Tommorrow, I see her. There’s been another bundle and the most beautiful girl I have ever seen gets pushed into my side. She looks up and mouths ‘sorry’ then gives me the most wonderful smile. She has the same black and white makeup as Brian Cadell, but with a perfect little mouth and huge eyes, as piercing as the spotlights. I am immediately in love and smile back, relieved that the noise means I have not got to say anything clever to her. Then another barge and she is thrust right into me. I feel her breast, her actual physical breast, crush against my side. It’s the most erotic moment of my life, better even than when Jenny Hanley joined Magpie. She mouths ‘sorry’ again and I nod in cool acknowledgement though my heart is thumping. She is wearing a Heaven Sent vest and when I notice that one of her silver–coloured bra straps has fallen off her shoulder I’m even more smitten. The song continues and although it means I have to take my eyes off Brian Cadell, I don’t mind and need to make sure I keep this amazing girl next to me. And so we sort of dance our way together through Deliverance, well, I know we are dancing together though I suppose she might not. Then its Heaven Sent’s slow number, Make-Out Girl and the bundling eases as people hold their lighters up and sway. I’ve managed to keep her next to me, and as Brian Cadell croons of love, I sing along, knowing all the words by heart. I look down to see her singing along too. My heart jumps. She looks up at me with her bush baby eyes and we are singing the lyrics to each other, together, just her, me and Brian Cadell.
Let’s go and stake-out, Girl
By the beach, Girl
Where we can make-out, Girl
It’s just so romantic, and despite the fact there are hundreds of fans crammed into the Palais, and my hero is on stage, all I can see is this vision of perfection next to me, with eyes as bright as an approaching tube train. The song ends and I do something so out of character I still can’t believe I did it.
I lean down and kiss her. On the lips. I immediately realise what I’ve done and want to pull up and apologise before she starts screaming, but she puts her hand to the back of my head and holds me there, clamped to her soft, quite muscular lips. I feel heat from deep inside her, like she’s a volcano. I can’t imagine I have anything as hot or as pleasant to transfer back, but her tongue seems intent on finding something.
My head is spinning with love, Heaven Sent and an increasing lack of oxygen when, I am pulled away from her to hear ‘Oi! What’s your f++k’in game?’ Then it comes, right out of the blue. God, it comes- a huge punch right in the middle of my face, like I’ve used my nose to stop a goods train. I’d fall, but the swell of people keep me upright though for a few seconds I am out cold. Dave told me after that this big guy came out of the crowd with a couple of drinks, saw me and presumably his girl kissing, shoved the cans to someone before grabbing me out of the clamp and well, I can remember the rest.
Dave manages to edge me through the crowd to one of the security guys. I am still very groggy, but remember people wincing, desperately trying to avoid the blood spurting from my nose. The bouncer pulls me up on the stage as if I was a small bag of apples. I am barely able to walk as he carries me across stage, right in front of Brian Cadell who is belting out Rat Pipe. In my barely sentient state I try to reconcile my being on stage with my hero, with my nostrils pointing in opposite directions and head thumping even louder than Baz Green’s drums just a few feet away. Brian Cadel tousles my hair as I am led away to a huge cheer from the audience. In the last 2 minutes I have kissed the sexiest girl in the world, taken a Mohammed Ali haymaker and been rubbed by Brian Cadell – the three most significant events of my life.
All that was over 30 years ago. I had never been punched before or since – apart from that weedy swipe from Saul Drapkin in the playground when I threw his favourite marble in a bush. I thought about that kiss for months after my nose healed and though I am long-term happily married now, in some ways I am still in love with the bright-eyed girl with the suction lips and errant bra strap.
I wrote to Brian Cadell the day after, informing him it was my hair he tousled and that I was his number one fan. I was hoping I might get free tickets and travel to their NY show, but all I got back was his photo signed ‘always yours, Brian’. It was the same picture and comment that I was sent when I joined his fan club 3 years previously, though signed in different handwriting.
At a car boot sale in the 90’s I was running through a case of bootleg cassettes and found one for that gig. I met the full 25p asking price without haggling and rushed it home. Though the sound quality was dreadful, I was thrown straight back to 1974. I like to think you can hear the cheer after my hair tousling, though Dave disputes this.
We still go to gigs, Dave and I. Next week we are going to a tribute act, Heaven Spent. Brian Cadell’s son, Whizz is the lead singer, Brian having died in 1987 after another drug-fuelled bender. He was spared aging and probably the attentions of Operation Yew Tree. I predict that the audience will be full of fans from those glory days, long hair replaced by baldness and Red Stripe by ‘just the one glass of merlot – I’m a martyr to my heartburn’. But mostly I hope that among the crowd is a pair of bright eyes watching the show like me, from the altogether gentler environment at the back of the auditorium.
I hope you enjoyed that story. It was short-listed in a Writer’s Magazine competition. If you have 2 mins spare, add a comment to let me know what you think, if you have 5 minutes, add that comment then find another story on my site – there’s plenty to try.