October 14, 2012 Leave a comment
Hero to zero
“Oy! Elvis! It’s your round!” The words sent shivers down my spine. Not because I was in a pub with Elvis (I wish), but because the words were aimed at me and they were spoken by a six-foot tall, 250 pound, heavily bearded Hell’s Angel called Grizzly. I pretended I didn’t hear. “OY!!” he yelled again, “Are you f***ing deaf Elvis? I said it’s your round!” The room fell silent and everyone looked in my direction.
I was 17 years old and I had happily been doing a gig with my band in a pub in the Forest of Dean in England, but after we had finished I was invited against my will to join a bunch of the roughest, loudest, biggest people I had ever seen. They had been comparatively well behaved earlier, listening to the band play and requesting Elvis songs, but now after a few beers things were getting rowdy. They bought me several drinks even though I told them that I had no money to return the favour, and I tried to leave graciously after each drink, but every time I was told in a good natured yet at the same time intimidating way that I was going to stay there and drink with them whether I wanted to or not because I could “sing like Elvis”. My lack of funds was no problem when they were relatively sober, but apparently things had changed, at least for their man-mountain of a leader. All the regular patrons and the rest of the band had discreetly left the pub earlier, and now it was midnight and I was alone with half a dozen drunken thugs. Even the landlord hadn’t had the nerve to close the bar. My heart was pounding in my chest as I struggled for words, my mouth moving but no sound coming out.
Grizzly lost his patience. He pushed his chair back, stood up slowly and made his way round the table towards me, walking like John Wayne and wiping the beer residue from his thick gray and black beard. I thought about running but I wouldn’t have made it to the door. I sat there shaking as he positioned himself behind me. He leaned down and whispered in my ear, his surprisingly heavy beard resting on my shoulder and his revolting beer and tobacco-laden breath hot in my ear. “Let me help you Elvis” he said. With that he picked me up, complete with the chair I was sitting in, carried me across the room and put me down on top of the bar, still in my chair. The rest of the gang erupted into hearty laughter and started chanting “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis…” I could see the landlord on the other side of the bar trying to laugh and join the chant with them, but his eyes told me he was just as I scared as I was. Not at all what I was hoping for from the one person I thought might be able to save me from the severe beating I was surely about to get. Grizzly spoke loudly over the hilarity. “Barkeep, Elvis wants to buy a round!”
I didn’t know what to do so I sat there in silence and braced myself for a punch. Then the landlord took pity on me. “Ok” he said, his voice shaking, “I’ll just take it out of your band money Eamonn… I haven’t paid you yet right..?” I breathed a sigh of relief. He was helping me after all. It was technically true that he hadn’t “paid” us because we played every Friday in return for beer and pizza (in fact the band was called “Free Beer and Pizza” for that reason). I readily agreed and stammered “Oh yeah… that’s right… you haven’t paid us… errrr… yet… please get these gentlemen a drink and take it out of our pay…” My saviour quickly started to pour beers and I thought my troubles were over, but then Grizzly bellowed over the laughter again. “What did he say your name was?” I swallowed hard. “Errr… it’s ‘Eamonn’…” Everyone looked in silence at Grizzly waiting to see his reaction. He reacted. “His name is f***king Amy!” and the whole room burst into laughter again, and the whole gang started chanting “Amy, Amy, Amy..” I much preferred Elvis. A couple of hours later they were all so drunk I was able to make my escape by climbing out of the toilet window. So much for groupies.