Wednesday 14 November 2012

       Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 5


Later that year, probably in the summer, the Barleycorn social club went on a boozy weekend trip to the Isle of Man, a small island off the N. W. of England. There was around forty of us including regulars and staff.
On the Saturday evening I was sat in the hotel bar with the rest of our group. Chris Lea was beside me and Bernie Dwyer ( the old Freddie and the Dreamers drummer ) a couple of seats away. Chris’s version is slightly different to mine, but I defer to his excellent memory. I knew Chris was a graphic designer, and some how in the conversation I mentioned I knew someone who had got in trouble who designed album covers, Neil had told me Hugh Syme, the guy responsible for their album artwork, had been jailed for fraud. Neil seems to have a few good friends who fell foul of the law !
When Chris asked me who I was referring to, I told him. Immediately Chris’s attitude changed. He seemed suspicious that I had even heard of Hugh Syme. Bernie, being the loveable rogue he was, caught on, and started to wind Chris up by asking me who else I knew from Canada. By now Bernie was aware that Chris was into Rush, but not to what degree.
Sensing there could be a laugh to be had, but not sure why, I went on to tell Chris, I didn’t know the unfortunate Mr. Syme, but was an old friend of the group’s drummer. Convinced now that this was a wind up, probably instigated by his work mates who knew of his love of all things Rush, and were on the trip. Chris started to ask me questions. Like what the drummer was called ? “Neil Peart”,  I replied pronouncing it correctly. What were the names of their albums etc? I couldn’t name one, but assured him I was telling the truth. More questions bombarded me, but the clincher was when Chris asked me if Neil wrote to me, and if so what was special about the writing paper. My reply floored him.
“The paper has from “The desk of Neil Peart” printed on the top”, I answered. Apparently year’s earlier, letters to a magazine from Neil, had shown this to be true.
Mr Lea totally bewildered, but now convinced I really did know this god of rock, just sat there in disbelief, shaking his head. Bernie, with perfect timing, then went on to drop the bomb shell, not only had he met Neil in Manchester earlier that year, but they had had a drink in the Barleycorn. To make matters even worse he added that Chris had been in the pub on the night in question, and had only been a few feet away from Neil. Chris’s face was a picture.

Crestfallen, distraught, unbelieving and in a total state of shock the poor guy just kept repeating “Never, never, I can’t believe it, Neil Peart was in my pub, AND I was there without knowing”
Ironically this bit of good natured leg pulling was to have a profound effect on Chris’s life in the future .
After a couple of stiff drinks and a little time Chris pulled himself together and went on to tell me just how brilliant and successful a band Rush were. He also told me my old mate was one of the best rock drummers in the world, if not the best. Now it was my turn to be gob smacked. Chris reeled off album after album. The fact that Rush were extraordinarily highly regarded in rock circles the world over was beginning to sink in. We talked, and drank into the early hours, oblivious to the rest of our party. I wanted to know every little detail about Neil and his band.
When Chris eventually went to bed that Sunday morning, he could be heard mumbling “Neil Peart was in my pub”, shaking his head in disbelief. I in turn could hardly take in just what my colonial cousin had achieved,
Neil and I kept in touch over the next year or so. He sent me all sorts of printed matter about the band, a brochure of The Chalet Studio, where they recorded, and kept me up to date with their progress. Copies of Drummer magazine, where not only was he a regular writer, but also had his picture on one of the covers. My friend really was a rock star. In return I kept Neil up to date with my life, and my criminal enterprises. By now I was involved in a crime called L F's. Long firm fraud, which is company fraud aimed at building up maximum credit, then disappearing leaving unpaid accounts. For obvious reasons I couldn't go into too many details, so in some ways Neil wasn't totally aware of the level of criminality I was operating at.
In the meantime on arrival home from The Isle of Man, Chris came round to my flat laden with Rush albums, and over a period of weeks we listened to them with Chris explaining all he could about each song. To be honest, the music wasn’t my cup of tea, and I found a lot of it very heavy going. But my friend was playing the drums and had written the words, so I had an avid interest from that point of view.
Each time Neil wrote he always finished by writing “say hello to Bernie”. In my letters I told of this guy in Manchester who was a big fan, and was kindly leading me through their music. Also knowing Neil’s wonderful sense of humour, I related the story of that night in The Isle of Man when Bernie, and I had wound Chris up, and his reaction to realizing Neil had been in the Barleycorn without Chris knowing.
With typical Peart humour, and loving the story, Neil in one of his missives added to his usual “hello to Bernie,” “and say hi to Chris “ When I showed this to Chris, his reaction was priceless. I could never have believed those few words could have meant so much. I suspect Neil did, and typical of the man, that was probably why he wrote them.
Neil and Chris are very similar in many ways. Both have artistic ability, and interest in most things connected to art. Both have excellent recall. Very funny guys who once they have decided you are a friend, then it is for life. Unlike many people I know they also accept my many mistakes in life, and are not judgemental about my criminal past. I gauge my friends by how I feel when we meet. Whether I saw them last week, or many months or even years ago, I always get a warm feeling meeting certain people. These two are very high on that particular list.
Oh, and did I forget to say they both play the drums?
Also they were to have a very tragic time in their lives within a few months of each other.
The trans Atlantic mail continued to flow. I felt very sorry for Neil having to try and decipher my atrocious hand writing, but he seemed to do so without too much complaint. No word processor for me in those days. One morning sometime in 1987, I received a telegram from Neill. Rush were touring Canada, and North America, and he wanted me to ring him in America. The person I had to ask for was called, Hank Kimble.
I made the call, asked for Mr. Kimble, and was put through. Not really knowing what to say I sort of mumbled that Neil Peart had asked me to speak to this guy Kimble. A recognizable laugh boomed down the phone as Neil announced he was Mr. Kimble. This was the name he was using on the tour as not to be bothered by fans. A ploy I was to find out was used by all three members of Rush while on the road. After a little small talk ( I said Neil wasn’t one for talking on the phone, ) he announced that Rush were to tour Great Britain, and Europe the coming spring, and would I be interested in some work ? I said “yes” and with no more ado Neil told me the details would be posted to me, bade farewell and hung up.
As I sat there reflecting what I may have let myself in for, I felt sure I was too old for humping gear around, I thought of Chris. We arranged to meet in the Barleycorn that evening, and I told him of my news. Understandably his first reaction was he would see his favourite band again. Then he got excited for me as well. We sat drinking and trying to guess what my duties would be, where they would play, and a hundred other thoughts on this news. Over the next few weeks Chris, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out where Rush would play, how many shows, and how long “my tour” would be.
I then had a letter from Neil telling me my job in fact was to drive him independently of the rest of the band. While Alex, Geddy, and the main players of the Rush entourage would either travel by limo, train, or fly, we were to do the whole trip by road. Neil and I would be travelling together in a car. The financial arrangements were Neil could spend half of Alex and Geddy’s expenses on his travel expenses. This was to be the first time Neil had travelled independently of the others while touring anywhere.
Now I got really excited, the thought of us driving possibly thousands of miles together would just be like an improved version of those old days. Mr Peart’s thinking was we could travel in a “smallish saloon”, while Alex and Geddy were chauffeur driven in a limo, and thus avoid the attention of the fans. I knew a guy who had a fairly new Audi. I suggested to Neil we could maybe hire it for the duration of the tour. For some reason that idea got no reply in the next letter I received
I was soon to find out why.
A few days later a package arrived in the post. It had a booklet in with all the tour locations, which hotels we would stay in. All the information was there about each venue, and when Neil and I ( and the others ) would be travelling, and how.
On the front it said
Rush Hold Your Fire Tour ‘88 Europe & UK
The dates were as follows.
Thurs. 21st NEC Birmingham
Sat, 23rd NEC Birmingham
Sun. 24th NEC Birmingham
Tues, 26th SEC Glasgow
Thur. 28th Wembley Arena, London
Fri. 29th Wembley Arena, London
Sat. 30th, Wembley Arena, London
Mon. 2nd Ahoy Sportshall Rotterdam
Wed 4th Festhalle, Frankfurt
Thur. 5th Hans Martin Schleyer Hall, Stuttgart.

Three nights in the NEC, three nights at Wembley arena, just how big are these guys?
I would find out in April.

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