In Which Nick Buys a Harley for 16K Having Once Been Young.
In 1970 they had their one and only legendary US tour.
The Breaks played 100 gigs in 110 days. They played their five hits the way the hits sounded on the record. They played their six other songs so they sounded like their five hits. They were in America, which was where they had all dreamed of going, except they didn’t see it. They saw hotel rooms and stages and the inside of a bus.
The tour was not going well, because before they left their manager had brought out their new LP. The last time they had talked about the cover Pete had had some Op Art-like ideas and their manager had said it was interesting and now here it was.
The artwork was a rip-off of Yellow Submarine with cartoons of the lads in bell-bottoms and boots and it was called Groovin On Down. There was an unpleasant scene because Pete said he was not going to America to be associated with an album called Groovin On Down. His manager said he did not see and Pete said bitterly that they should call themselves the Berks and a bystanding American asked enlightenment and was told that a berk was the kind of person who thought it was groovy to call an album Groovin On Down. Wee Willie Wanker and His Wallies he said, and he said Well at least they can’t do anything to
There was something about the way Steve’s expression stayed exactly the same so smiling and friendly; there was something in the way he said agreeing Exactly, it’s the music the fans care about, slipping in the word ‘fans’.
Pete said Well let’s hear it, and there was something about the way he was too eager. He slipped the silky black disk from its sleeve and put it on the turntable.
Some of the record was old material and some was new material going in a different direction from the old material which now sounded exactly like the old material.
The three other Breaks jumped him before he could kill their manager and their manager explained that they had just made some very minor adjustments because you didn’t want to disappoint your fans.
For a while it seemed that Pete would not go but someone had the bright idea of calling his father who made an uplifting speech about Shirley Temple, that little girl had more spunk in her little finger was the general tenor of the argument, look at Julie Andrews he went on to say, do you think Miss Andrews found it easy to work with a man who imagined he had mastered Cockney? These people are professionals, he explained, it’s not all glamour, it’s a tough life but the show must go on.
Pete hung up and relayed the comment about Shirley Temple to the rest of the band.
The Beatles had staff to do their autographing but the Breaks wouldn’t do that to their fans. Every manager has to find his own way of dealing with temperament. What Steve did was he talked to the lads before the tour, he said it meant a lot to the fans to have a signed copy of the album, Pete, he said, as they all knew, he said, had a big following amongst the fans, but he knew Pete was not as happy as he had hoped with the album, he respected that, if Pete was not comfortable with signing the album he could just sign pix and Mike, Nick and Dave could sign albums on Pete’s behalf but he naturally hoped that in the cold light of day Pete would see his way to doing something that would mean so much to the fans. At the end of the day they were all professionals.
Pete didn’t say anything. There were four stacks of pix of the lads, and a stack of Groovin On Down. Mike, Nick and Dave each took twenty copies of Groovin On Down. Pete said Well, if it means that much to the fans, and he took twenty copies of Groovin On Down and started signing.
So Steve had the lads signing pix and LPs for a couple of hours a day before the gigs. By the second week of the tour three of the songs on the album were in the Top 10. The three hits were all from the new material that had been toned down to be more like the old material.
Steve did not expect gratitude because he was just doing his job, which was to see they did not disappoint the fans.
Luckily at the gigs the lads were not really able to replicate the sound effects Pete had been aiming at in the studio, so the three new hits sounded even more like the five old hits than they did on the record.
One day they were doing a Break-tastic group signing. Nick had to leave the room so Mike took some albums signed Mike and Dave over to Pete and when Nick came back he found he had a stack of albums signed Mike, Dave and Willy the Wanker.
It was only too clear that Pete had failed to live up to the standard of professionalism set by Miss Temple and Miss Andrews.
Steve said it wasn’t for himself that he minded, it was the fans, he thought they were all professionals, but if that was the way it had to be so be it.
What it meant was that in later years any copy of Groovin On Down signed Mike Nick Dave and Pete was automatically worthless, because Pete had only ever signed the album Willy the Wanker, Wee Willie Wanker, and Shirley, and the only ones signed Pete dated from the point at which Steve had brought in a girl to sign on Pete’s behalf. The Willy the Wanker albums were worth about $1,000, and a complete Willy the Wanker-Wee Willie Wanker-Shirley set was worth about $15,000, because Pete only signed them for about a month before Nick left the room. There were twenty albums signed only by Mike, Dave and Willy the Wanker, and they were real collector’s items because of the limited number and association with a historic occasion. Steve confiscated them at the time, and he was able to laugh about it later when he saw what they went for.
Halfway through the tour the fans stormed the stage. There was a lot of confusion. Nick, Mike and Dave made it to the car and they assumed Pete was in another car. So they got back to the hotel and there was no sign of Pete. All night there was no sign of Pete. In the morning there was still no sign of Pete.
What had happened was that Pete had managed to hide in the van of one of the roadies. After a while the van took off. When it stopped Pete got out. He started walking and after a while he reached a street with some stores. There was a drugstore, and a liquor store, and a store called Five and Dime – all very American. Every once in a while someone would look at him, and twice someone screamed PETE!!!!!!! and asked for an autograph.
He kept walking down the street, looking at the stores and the people and the American cars. He had the feeling that the world was very quiet, that he was hidden in a part of the world that was just quietly going on while Steve imploded.
He had a hundred-dollar bill in his boot, which was the only item of clothing that could not easily get ripped off by a fan. He went into the Five and Dime and bought a check shirt and a pair of straight-legged jeans. He put on the new clothes and threw away the old ones, and now not so many people looked at him. Then he went into a barbershop that looked like the kind of place his father went, and he asked for the kind of haircut his father always asked for, and when he went back out into the street no one looked at him.
He walked out of town and put out his thumb, and he was picked up by a man in a white Chevy pick-up truck. There was still that quietness in the world.
The road stretched straight out ahead looking just the way he always thought an American road would look. The radio was on. The driver appeared not to be one of his fans.
Well I know I’ll be blue
If my true love’s untrue
I don’t think I could ever bear to part
Don’t you walk out the door tomorrow
Leaving me to grief and sorrow
Cause I’ll beg or steal or borrow back your heart
The world was so quiet. Eat your heart out, Paul McCartney.
And that was the end of the Breaks. Pete kept going east on Route 66. People would stop and he would open his mouth and they’d say You’re English, aren’t you? and nothing was too good for him. Sometimes they’d drive through a town past a record store and he’d see pristine copies of Groovin On Down in the window and they’d just keep going. After a while he went south and it was just as American though different and he saw places where you’d see tarantulas hopping down the road and people would actually say Howdy and he never got tired of hearing it. In one place he bought a harmonica, an instrument that is a lot harder than you might think. He spent a lot of time going MWA mwa MWA mwa getting the hang of it. He would never be anonymous again.
In 1998 Bike Magazine had a special Harley Davidson issue with an insert including a piece on the Harley Owners Group (HOG). It really is a way of life, said a member, with any other motorcycle you pay up at the shop, buy the bike and that’s it, but with a Harley that’s just the start. He said it was all to do with meeting likeminded people who knew that you didn’t need to do 160mph everywhere to get a buzz. He said you ended up with friends all over Europe, the tours meant that you met people with the same biking interests as you, but with varied backgrounds.
The berimbau is a unique percussive instrument, consisting of a gourd with a single string. Played with a bow, it produces tone with a beat! Much used in Brazil, the berimbau will add that unmistakable ‘samba’ sound to your music, and will make you the envy of all your friends.
We are sending you this remarkable instrument in the hope that you will sponsor Anya, daughter of a former musician. Anya, a hardworking student, is keen to go to college. Sadly, Anya’s father Nick is unable to help Anya achieve her goals. That’s why we need people like you. People who remember all the pleasure musicians like Nick have given in the past. People who want to give the younger generation a chance.
We hope you’ll help Anya, Pete. But whether or not you choose to help this deserving young student, the berimbau is yours to keep.
Pete said What the fuck?
I put the berimbau and the bow on his keyboard.
I said I want to be a banker. I want to make six figures. I don’t want to sell shit on a market stall.
Pete said And Nick won’t give you the dosh? The mean bastard.
I said I’ll pay you back. It’s three years and a year in Egypt.
I explained the connection between Arabic and six figures. I said I needed four figures a year.
Pete said Is that all? He dug under a lot of papers and he took out a chequebook and he wrote a cheque for five figures.
He said Hey! hey! hey! Anya! Don’t cry! hey! hey!
He said Let’s see how this little fucker works.
He took the bow and bounced it softly on the string and he sang
O I can’t do the boogie woogie
I can do the oogie doogie
O won’t you oogie doogie with me?
Oogie woogie doogie
Oogie woogie doogie
Oogie doogie baby with me
He looked up and he said You know Nick
Nick, you know, he was into that rock thing, people watching, the money
You know, just before our US tour we were in Gibraltar and I went over to Africa ’cause I didn’t think it would take that long to get back. It was just after our second album came out, and Steve had changed a lot of shit to make it like the first album. And that album was really popular, the fans didn’t notice, so I felt like the fans were total wankers. I felt betrayed. And Steve had booked us for a whole year of gigs, just playing the same shit the same way every time.
So I walked along the beach, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought it would be better just to walk into the water and die than go through the year, and I couldn’t understand how they could do it. They turned my life into something worse than nothing, into this torture, for the sake of extra sales, well couldn’t we just have had enough sales and something in it for me? And how could they just decide like that that my life didn’t matter, it didn’t matter if I was in, like, agony. But the thing is they didn’t know they were doing it. They didn’t know what they were taking away because they never had anything real to know what it was like when everything was a fake. They could get a lot of money and blag about the business. The money was the only thing there could be for them, and they’d never have anything else.
Don’t get so you can’t have anything but money, Anya. You don’t want to be like Steve.
But what the fuck, do what you want.
Booga dooga dooga
De white man sucks
Booga dooga dooga
He really sucks
I like this baby. Hey!
This story was first published online at the Sunday Times (Need to be an ST subscriber to view)