place: The Corn Exchange theatre, Newbury, 2018.
“Here we go again. Here we go again,” the crowd bayed the name of their favourite song as they stamped their feet. imploring an encore.
Back stage, his manager stuck his head round the dressing room door. “You gotta go back on and play it, Herb – they’re going mentalist, innit.”
Herbie Breadcrumbs said nothing, but allowed more of the sputum to drain from his upturned saxophone into the wastepaper bin. What more could he give? He’d just played them a two-hour solo set, with everything from ‘The Pink Panther’ to ‘Fly me to The Moon’, and still they wanted more.
“Here we go again. Here we go again.” The crowd clamour for him to play an encore with this, his best-known hit, had a sense of malevolence about it now.
“Jeez, Herb. You get your lungs out there and blow, d’ya hear?”
“Here we go again. Here we go again.” The walls seemed to be shaking with the chant.
Herbie wiped the sweat off his saxophone .“Can’t do it, Sirus,”
He was done with playing the tune which, while making him a world-wide celebrity, he’d grown to hate. He must have played it thousands of times and found it as boring as watching box sets of ‘Tipping Point’. The thought of playing ‘Here We Go Again,’ even one more time, made him as nauseous as those childhood bowls of rhubarb that Mama made him eat back in the deep south of Suffolk. But what nobody else knew is that yesterday he’d sold his soul to the devil never to have to play it again.
“Can’t? Can’t is for…aunts,” said Sirus, this being all that came to mind.
“Can’t, aunt, slant, plant,” retorted Herbie, whose frustration would not allow him to articulate anything beyond this.
Sirsus threw his arms in the air. “A poet now, eh? I’ll give you another one… Chant. Do ya hear dem out there? Dat’s Newbury’s finest, innit, out on da town, prepared to do anything for a piece of da action – or grabbin’ a piece of YOU if dey don’t.”
“He’s right,” said Doreen, a 72-year-old chief usherette, as she shuffled in to the dressing room to hurry the hesitant woodwind-wafting wonder. “The Corn Exchange hasn’t seen anything this nasty since Richard Stilgoe refused to perform just one more anagram in 1987. You must get out there, Mr Breadcake.”
“Breadcrumbs”’ corrected Silas. “His tag is Breadcrumbs, da greatest saxophonist in da world. Da star whose going to blow da minds of these Newbrarians and paint another chapter of…”
Herbie bashed the dressing table with his fist. He was almost as sick of his manager’s mixed metaphors as he was of the damn song. “Alright, alright I’ll do it.” He kicked the saliva-soaked bin across the floor.
Silas looked to the ceiling, “Thank da Lord,”
“No shit,” said Doreen, and limped off the reassure the other septuagenarian attendants that Herbie would coming out to play.
Herbie said nothing as he put on his sunglasses, tossed back his braids over his bald patch and moped for the stage.
After a crescendo of noise when he appeared, the crowd settled back in their seats. Now there was silent anticipation as Herbie crunched his way over the thousands of Maltesers that they’d thrown on stage in rage.
“Gotta toon for you, Newbury,” he said, lighting their blue touch paper.
“Here we go again,” they screamed as one.
Herbie waited for the din to calm and puckered up, then under the powerful spotlight blew the first few bars, not of ‘Here We Go Again’, but the sax solo from ‘Baker Street’.
The crowd went wild. Really furious. He’d already played it three times in the set and now they were so Rafferty-rattled they took to throwing their M&Ms which pinged over the stage like a prime-coloured explosion in an abacus factory. Herbie played on.
The final bars of the over-tooted tune were drowned out by renewed and fervent demands for ‘Here We Go Again’. It was getting as ugly as a cabbage patch doll in a macerator.
“People, listen,” said Herbie, his forehead glistening as brightly as his sax as he gestured the crowd to quieten. As one they all leaned forwards. “I gotta problem. You see, last night after my Basingstoke gig…” The crowd booed at the name of their rival town. “In my dressing room, I had a baad visitor.” They all leaned forward hoping for a tale of lurid show-bizz excess. “And I made a deal with Satan never to play ‘Here We Go Again’, err, again.” And with this he said goodnight and started to walk off the stage.
They crowd turned to each and murmured for a moment then stood, pointed at Herbie and chanted, “Here we go again. Here we go again.”
Herbie started to run, but before he reached his dressing room, Doreen stepped out brandishing a dusty-looking blunderbuss.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she sneered, sounding like she was sucking on a boiled sweet because this was exactly what she was doing. “Did I get grab this shooter from the theatre props, or is it real? Well, Mr Breadcake, are you going to find out the hard way, or are you just going to sing that shitty little ditty of yours so we can all get out of this pissing pig-poke?” Having run out of sweets to throw, the Corn Exchange crowd were starting to chuck their plastic vessels of lemonade.
Herbie froze. She may have been grey, 4ft 8 and suffering from some spine curvature, and looked exactly like the kind of pensioner who could be messed with despite her potty-mouth, but the gun upped the ante.
“But you don’t understand,” he said. “The devil said that in exchange for my soul I’d never have to play the that bloody song again. He said that in exchange, all I had to do was go on tour with his client, Phil Collins. Knowing that anyone who accompanied Phil Collins singing ‘Sussudio’ would have to be completely soulless but probably very wealthy, I accepted. Trouble is, the devil said if I did play ‘Here We Go Again’, he would reign terror on any town I performed it in.”
Doreen cocked the ancient firearm. “What a crock of bollocks. Now, are you playing or not, Maestro. Your choice.” She took aim across the top of her specs at Herbie’s head.
I’m not going to tell you if Herbie played the song, or took a chance calling Doreen’s bluff with that gun. All I can say is that since that night, it seems that blow after blow has hit Newbury. The council cut the Corn Exchange theatre’s grant by another £136,000 and Newbury’s shopping streets now offer little more than coffee houses, card shops and homeless people. Newbury FC’s ground is going to be demolished and two of the ugliest bridges in history have been built in the town. It’s as the crowd chanted: Here we go again. Here we go again.