Christmas at Grey Gables and Baby Rhymetime was hanging in the balance. Brutal management decisions to forcefully sign up mothers with Starter Bear kits when they just want to boogie to our souped up version of Wheels on the Bus almost cost us our audience. Coupled to that the stock librarian and lead guitarist, Reggie ‘Dewey’ Watkins, was having a crisis of confidence.
We call ourselves Electric Babyland and today the children’s library was buzzing with Marshall amps and vintage Danelectro guitars. We built some Marshall stacks out of old cardboard boxes painted black with a tolex grill cloth and the familiar logo, ideal for ploughing into after a rousing version of The Grand Old Duke of York. Babies love to rock n’ roll, tottering until they fall over– it is only later in adolescence that they forget how to dance.
Initially, I admit some of the music may have been geared to the au-pairs, the Russian beauties with severe fringes, the Pakistani heiress who married a Columbian gem importer, the one with beige bra and biscuit coloured knickers who sits in a full lotus and breasts feeds while I’m playing Old MacDonald– something about that uptempo farmyard ditty that makes people want to get butt naked. And if I’m going to be really honest I hope Amanda Wang (She who makes my masonite guitar TWANG) might hear ear-curdling riffs on her way up to the reference library to research crystal healing.
The problem today was my fellow guiarist, Reggie. I saw him in the tearoom below Grey Gables main entrance, head in his hands, mumbling: ‘I can’t do it. Can’t go on faking the organism.’ He was loosening his spotted cravat and running huge fingers through corrugated waves of hair.
‘I’m washed up. I’m getting panic attacks playing to such big audiences. They don’t care about us. ‘
With the window in the wall at street level you have a view of stockinged legs, high heels, Jimmy Choos, combat boots, espadrilles… all the footwear of the uber-wealthy and their shapely and well-fashioned legs. He had counted sixty already and was getting windy. And this is a pro who toured Japan with shoulder pads and a guitar shaped like an ironing board in the late eighties playing a mixture of cold fusion and rural funk in the almost legendary Quality Audit.
‘They’re sucking the life out of us…’
The legs had done it to him and the occasional sausage dog that slithered past. We were below stairs lackeys. Unable to see a full woman, only their feet and calves– this abrupt truncated vision is what the servant must make do with– the dismemberment of the female body. One day when our amps are set to 11 we’ll climb up the loading bay chute and emerge into full daylight but not until a full Health and Safety assessment.
I sprinkled some kinky goat herb in his camomile, ‘Of course you can do it,’ I said and stuck his turquoise guitar in his hand. ‘We’re going to blow their diapers off… we’re the business. No one else can do loud and soft like we do. Nirvana for a while but that’s it!’
On the stairwell he was still trembling, fiddling with his Tufty badge stuck to his ID. The noise from the room above was amplified like the shouts in a swimming baths. He was ashen, unshaven and then…. we were in the moment, pushing our way through sprawling children, cross-legged nannies, the little enclave of Filipino carers with beautiful castrati voices. We plugged in and were soon feeding off the audience energy, bouncing it back over the book stacks and our disheartened colleague at the back updating her Facebook status.
I was lost in a solo, think the guitar sound of Syd Barrett’s intro on Baby Lemonade, bending a string, when I looked up past the outstretched arms of the children, straight into the blue-green eyes of Amanda Wang standing in the doorway, baffled– a jaw dropping moment of ‘what the hell is happening here?’ But I couldn’t stop. The children were banging on drums and Tibetan finger cymbals, a prehistoric rhythm that swept up buggies and large print books and reference librarians into the tumult.