Sunday, 11 May 2014

April 1979

Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Part 2)

As I walk home from the Rainbow that night it suddenly dawns on me that this could be my biggest break – switching from observer to controller. A pop promoter for the biggest band in the world. Power, dosh, fame. Everything I’d always wanted, well, since meeting Dina. This was my destiny and I was going to share it with someone who beat the shit out of me when I was five.

I ring Alan Edwards the next morning to try to arrange the meeting. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein would be arriving in London in a few weeks and he’d see what he could do. He sounds sceptical but eventually manages to set up a meeting at their hotel, the Montcalm in the West End. Alan always comes through: it’s the secret of his success.

It’s an unusually warm Sunday morning in April. The meeting is arranged for noon and Frank picks me up in a smart S-reg something.

This definitely feels right. I lean back in the leather seat and decide I’ve finally arrived.

Frank and I breeze into the foyer and glide up to the reception desk.

‘Room 221,’ I say, in a voice brimming with such confidence it even surprises me.

The clerk dials the room. ‘They’ll ring back in a few minutes,’ she says, as she replaces the receiver.

We turn to find a seat and bump into Frank Infante from the band.

‘Hi, Frank,’ I say, like he’s my long-lost brother.

He hesitates. ‘Oh, yeah, hi.’ I’m used to the pretty vacant look from new-wave bands. A flicker of recognition crosses his eyes. ‘Right, yeah. The other guys are in there having breakfast,’ he says, indicating the dining room.

‘Great, I’ll catch you after I’ve seen Debbie and Chris,’ I say, still confident, still surprised.

‘Okay.’ He shuffles off.

The phone on the desk rings. ‘You can go up now,’ says the clerk.

Frank is wearing a beige suit and brown tie. He looks the part. I’m in a jacket and jeans. I think we make a cool pair, like maybe Sinatra and Martin or Starsky and Hutch.

Chris Stein opens the door. He looks like he’s been up all night.

‘Come through. Debbie will be right in.’

He leads us into an impressive living room and Frank and I sit down on the couch. Debbie walks in. She’s wearing a plain white bathrobe and no makeup. She’s the biggest pop star in Britain and walks in loveliness like the night across pubescent souls starved of glamour in the aftermath of punk.

But at noon on that particular Sunday, she looks like death warmed-up.

‘So what’s this all about?’ Chris asks.

Frank hits the gas. ‘I want Blondie to top the bill at a massive one-day pop extravaganza I’m promoting at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club. Here’s the deal. We’ll fly the band over on Concorde . . .’ I suddenly feel very cool when he says, ‘We’ll’. Chris and Debbie seem to like the supersonic words he’s speaking. They start to listen more intently. This is going well.

‘Then we’ll---’

The phone rings.

‘Excuse me just a moment,’ says Chris.

Frank starts to make small-talk with Debbie as Chris picks up the phone.

‘He’s the guy who did what?’ We all turn and look at Chris. He stares at me wide-eyed. After a few moments without saying another word he hangs up.

‘That was Clem.’ He’s talking only to me. ‘He says you’re the guy who interviewed them in New York a few months back. They didn’t like what you wrote about them, man. I haven’t read it but I know they were pretty pissed. They’re sending a couple of guys up to throw you out.’

He turns to Debbie. ‘Shit, I don’t know how these guys were allowed up here in the first place. Who arranged this?'

This Montcalm moment is a doozie. Why me?

‘Er, I’m sorry about this, Frank,’ I say, still in a state of apoplexy and frantically trying to remember what I’d actually written that had caused such consternation.

‘Don’t worry.’ He’s taking it nobly.

There’s a loud knock at the door.

I fear the worst. Frank and I had fought each other as kids − now we’re united against a common foe: Blondie bouncers.

Chris opens the door. There’s an exchange of words in the hallway.

He comes back into the room and says the guys outside want a word with me.

I go out. Frank, gratifyingly, watches my back.

A big guy in a black jacket, with the word `Security’ emblazoned across the back in large letters the colour of blood, is waiting. His colleague, similarly attired, stands a few feet away.

‘Is that guy you’re with Frank Warren?’ asks the first guy like it was Mick Jagger or Dustin Hoffman. Shit, Frank from my flats was a media celebrity. The boxing shows at the Rainbow were proving to be his stepping stones to fame. He really has caught the public’s imagination

I try to say, ‘Yes,’ like Al Pacino, but it comes out sounding more like John Inman.

‘I thought so,’ says the guy. ‘Look, we’ve just been asked by the band to throw you out but I don’t want any trouble with you or Mr Warren. I’ve seen you around at concerts and I know
you’re kosher. I don’t know what it was you wrote about those guys but they’re pretty fucked-off. I’ll leave it up to you but I think, honestly, it would be better if you left.’

He’s a straight-up guy and he’s marking my card. And then the two of them turn around and walk away, though I think they were tempted to ask for Frank’s autograph.

At that moment I realise I’d never be able to pin Frank’s arms to the ground ever again. He’s a well-respected man with more influence than I could ever have imagined. I, on the other hand, am a schmuck who still doesn’t know what I’d written that had got them all so pissed.

‘When we sort this shit out I’ll get in touch,’ says Chris. Frank and I both know we’d never set eyes on him again. Or each other come to that.

‘What the hell did you write?’ Frank asks, as we walk through the foyer and out into the spring sunshine. We both laugh about it on the way home but we know we’re never going make it as Barnum and Bailey. This was my last tango in Paris. From now on I have to set my sights lower.

Much lower.

(What the hell I wrote can be found on an earlier blog. Really sorry about that Frank. What can I say? I was a klutz with a vindictive streak. I actually did meet up with Frank over twenty years later. I heard that his mother had passed away. She was an absolute gem, always a smile on her face, always a kind word on her lips. I felt I had to write a letter of condolence to Frank and he replied with a wonderful handwritten letter awash with memories.

We met for lunch, two Finsbury boys with a boxful of chat, and he invited me and my sons Paul and Andrew, who were 16 at the time, to see Herbie Hide at the London Arena. He was fighting some relative unknown called Vitali Klitschko. My boys were well impressed when we were ushered into the up front and personal ringside seats and even more impressed by the Goliath proportions of the Ukrainian. The guy was a mountain and Herbie went down in the second round. It was a wonder he lasted that long.

After the show, I introduced the boys to Frank who chatted to them for a while.

‘I tell you something,’ he said to them as a parting shot, ‘your dad and I had better fights than that one tonight when we were kids…’

When I sent Frank this article, he invited me over the Arsenal as a guest in his box for the last home game of the season against West Bromwich Albion last Sunday. We reminisced about the old days and I asked him if the piece I wrote about him was okay to use. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s fine, except for one thing. It wasn’t Monopoly I tipped up. It was Buccaneer…’ What a true gent).

Next: Rush in Newcastle
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY



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