The Glam Rock Murders: Chapter One

I’m hoping to have this out within a couple of weeks, so here’s the first chapter of the second book in my Sarah Turner Mysteries series: The Glam Rock Murders. If you like this, then why not try the first book in the series, The Basilisk Murders, available from Amazon US and UK?

“OK, let’s try it again”

The opening riff of “Misty Lady” rang out from Sid Berry’s guitar, and even though I was never a fan of the Cillas, I couldn’t help tapping my foot along with it. When you’ve heard a song that many times, on the radio, on TV, in the background in pubs, you can’t help but nod along.

“Ooh, ooh ooh, my misty misty…stop. Stop. Terry, what the fuck are you doing?”

“What’s the matter?”

Graham Stewart, the Cillas’ vocalist, had thrown down his mic and stormed over to their bass player.

“Terry, it goes G to D to D diminished seventh to A minor. You were playing a fucking C. Where in that sequence does a C fit in?”

“Well, you can play a C in the A minor.”

Graham turned puce. “Well, you can, if you think playing the fucking third of the chord in the bass is in any way acceptable. But also, you weren’t playing it on the A minor, were you? You were playing it in the D dim seven. You arse.”

Hi, I’m Sarah Turner. You may remember me from such serial murders as that time those technolibertarians all got murdered on that island. Not that I killed them – though I was tempted – but I solved the murders.

Anyway, when I’m not solving crimes like some ace Miss Marple-style supersleuth, I’m a journalist, and I was currently watching the first rehearsal of the “legendary” 70s glam rock group the Cillas, before they started their reunion tour. At the time, I thought it was likely to be a fairly boring assignment, but I didn’t realise that murder had started to follow me around like I was some kind of a Jessica Fletcher.

So we’re going to get into another story of how I solved terrible crimes (unless I didn’t and I’m the murderer this time – woo, suspense!) (spoiler, I’m not the murderer) but at the time I was just thinking what an annoying bunch of arseholes this band were, especially the lead singer. I needed the money I was making from being there, but I was beginning to wonder if I needed it quite enough to put up with all this mantitlement.

To set the scene, this was a rehearsal room in Clacton. Big, empty, echoey room with no atmosphere at all. Whitewashed concrete walls, high ceilings. The band were arranged as they would be on stage. Graham Stewart was at a mic up front, wearing tight leather trousers, with a grey mullet and goatee beard that made him look like a cross between Peter Stringfellow and Noel Edmonds.

Directly behind him were Terry Pattison, a bald, fat, little white bloke in T-shirt and jeans, playing bass, and Sid Berry, a skinny black bloke with short salt-and-pepper hair, about a foot taller than Terry, on guitar. The two of them together looked like a number 10 come to life. In between them, and set slightly back again, was Pete Le Mesurier, the drummer. Younger than the rest of them, in his mid sixties rather than early seventies, he had a square, grey, face.

And off to the sides were three younger musicians. On my left as I faced the band was my wife, Jane, on keyboards. Behind her was Simon Cotton, playing a second drum kit, while on my far right was his brother Andy Cotton on a second guitar. All three of these were white, in their twenties, and looking bored, as well as seeming far more professional than the old men.

There were a few other people in there as well – a fat white bloke in his thirties with a goatee beard who seemed to be a professional fan, a few roadies, and various wives, business people, and assorted hangers-on. While you and I may not have thought about the Cillas in decades, except when hearing their tracks on Radio 2 or seeing them on “I Love Nostalgic Cheap Clips of the 70s with Stuart Maconie Mocking Them” on Channel Four, apparently they were still big enough business that it was worth them having all sorts of people in the room doing nothing other than getting in the way.

If I was playing with my old band for the first time in forty years, I’d want to do it in private, but then I’m not a rock star, and don’t have that kind of ego that wants to be in front of an audience at all times.

Sid lit a cigarette while Graham was shouting at Terry, apparently unaware of laws against smoking in the workplace. Within seconds, I could feel my chest starting to go – I’m allergic to tobacco smoke – and wished I’d brought my inhaler along. Graham, however, seemed oblivious to everything except his anger at the bass player.

“Look, Terry, it’s very simple. You play the root notes on the G and D, do a little walk up on the diminished seventh, and then play the fifth on the A minor. It’s not like it’s a hard part or anything. I can play it and I don’t play an instrument.”

“Well, why don’t you play it then? If it’s so easy, you can play an instrument rather than poncing about like a wanker at the front of the stage waving your arms, can’t you? Or you could at least just talk about it instead of giving me a bollocking for a wrong note.”

Graham sighed. “Okay, I’m sorry. I know you’ve not played live in a long time…”

“Since you sacked me.”

“Okay, yes, since I sacked you…”

“Since you sacked me from my band, which I formed…”

The other members of the Cillas were looking on with some amusement at Graham’s increasing discomfort. I’d not met the band before, but it was already obvious that their prima donna lead singer was not the most popular person in Cillaworld.

“Okay… just, you know what, forget it. Play whatever the fuck you like.”

Graham walked back to his mic, and picked it up. Andy Cotton, the band’s musical director, lifted his right hand from the acoustic guitar he was holding and started beating time. “All right, everyone, third time’s the charm.`Misty’ from the top. One, two, three, four.”

Jane looked over at me as the song started up again, and rolled her eyes. I smiled. I’d heard plenty of stories about Graham from her before, and it seemed they were all true. But in case he had a point, I paid attention to what Terry was doing on the bass – I couldn’t really help it anyway, given the way the throbbing from the low notes was disturbing my stomach – and it sounded absolutely fine to me. Possibly not the greatest bass playing I’d ever heard, but musical enough

They got as far as the middle eight before they got into serious trouble and ground to a halt. Once again, it was Terry who was making the mistakes.

“It’s OK, Terry,” said Sid. “That part there was always a bastard to play. To get it right you have to fret the two strings and play them both simultaneously, then pull off and quickly fret the eleventh fret, but just get the harmonic, not the actual note. It’s not really a bass part at all in the conventional sense. I was showing off, basically.”

Terry nodded. “I’ll probably get it eventually, it’s just I’m not Jaco bloody Pastorius, you know?”

Andy walked over and conferred with Jane for a second, then turned to the others.

“OK, I think I have a solution,” he said. “Jane’s only using one hand on that section anyway, so if you can just do the fiddly top bit, Terry, she can hold down the main bassline with all the root notes. Make sense?”

Terry nodded, cautiously. “I’d rather just do the bassline and have her do the fiddly bit…”

“Can’t work that way, I’m afraid. Those harmonics and glisses aren’t something you can do on a keyboard.”

“Fair enough.”

“OK,” said Andy, “let’s try this once more”.

And the band played through their glam rock hit from forty-five years earlier, without a hitch.

I needed a drink, but there didn’t appear to be any alcohol in the rehearsal room. I’d talked to Jane about it at a break earlier, and she’d told me that Graham had asked that the room be kept clear of all alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, because he was a Mormon. I didn’t really see why that should mean the rest of us couldn’t have any fun, but I was resigned to my fate. I needed the money from this writing job more than I needed the drink.

But it didn’t seem right to be listening to this music, which I was only really familiar with from drunken family parties, without a half-drunk can of cheap lager in my hand. There was a cognitive dissonance here, hearing such familiar music in such a different circumstance.

I looked over in the corner, and saw two middle-aged women having a stand-up, yelling, fight. That was more like it. That was exactly what I needed to see when I heard “Misty Lady”. I was at home again.

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