The Fall Of The King

a few years back i was living above a second hand record shop in the centre of town.A funny little place specialising in second hand ska and reggae records. the owner was a veteran of the old school, a guy in his late forties who looked like john lennon in his mind, but not to anyone else’s eyes. He went by the name of The King and the shop was his castle, where held court in his own kind of way.

He used his shop as a way to get hold of good records for himself cheap from collections and make profit on what was left. My flat shared the doorstep with the shop and i was always in there listening to records on his all in one 1970s portable turntable setup. two turntables, a two channel mixer, built in speakers, microphone facility and preamp all packed into a black veneer flightcase. it was almost the size of a coffin. a power cord plugged directly into the case and you were away.

I'd generally be in the flat reading books, listening to the reggae skank booming through my floorboards and would inevitably end up wandering down there sooner or later. sharing a doorstep meant i could see anyone who came to my flat through the shop window, so i'd be in there most days, at ground level, seeing what the action was. there was a regular crew of characters who passed by to talk shop and talk shit and take shits and drink my coffee when The King ran out. Conversation could be fast or slow depending on the company but regardless of subject matter a smutty sense of humour would run throughout. this was the king's influence. he always saw to that.
One time he put on a gig with an old ska legend, a guy way past his prime who's willing to do anything to keep the glory going. he still feels the music, but he doesn't like what he does in terms of having to get up there with his candle almost burned out and churn out lacklustre versions of his old hits when he knows he should be able to kick back and appreciate rather than still having to strive but somehow it never worked out that way for him. what else can he do? he's got to keep going because he needs the money and what else is he gonna do? everybody has the capacity to fuck up, so you can understand him but it was sad to watch, believe me. Let me explain how far the man who twenty years ago would have drawn a crowd big enough to fill a football stadium had fallen - he was now playing at a low key workings man club type setup with the maroon carpet then the small wooden dancefloor in front of an eight inch high stage with a bar at the side and a pool table at the back.

I'd gone there with a friend of mine, Nat, a half polish girl of an elfish posture with blonde dreadlocks. We sat at our round table and watched as The King played records on his stereo coffin hooked up to the PA system, looking around and seeing a most bizarre collection of people in the place. It was old school alright. I was thinking, how many poor bastards have had wedding receptions here? how many lucky bastards have had wedding receptions here? the scene by the wall over to the right of the room was the image of a Martin Parr photograph, one of the ones full of people indulging in the mediocre side of British life. In front of us was a skinhead straight from the seventies, tight jeans, black boots, check shirt tucked in with braces, stood on his own right on the edge of the dancefloor, swaying to the music, locked into the skank. feet not moving, rooted, just nodding his head and bobbing his body and swinging his arms alternately to the rhythm. simple pleasures. For a moment i thought i saw a wedding cake on one of the tables but i was mistaken.

We went off to play pool, you could here the balls echoing from the pockets over the music. Our ska legend came on and failed to light any kind of fire in the place. it was a sham. a non-event. the band sounded like some duo you'd find in a thai hotel foyer or terrible bar with a guy and his keyboard, the sound of which can only make you laugh while the nervous, desperate vocalist, shuffles with the discomfort of prostituting themselves through their performance.

I'm sat watching the spectacle of a man in freefall from a table at the back of the room with a rasta guy who sells records to the king. we're laughing at the whole scene. we're laughing at seeing a legend being reduced to being a cheap parody of himself. we're laughing at the crowd of deadbeats and hollow people with no insides and no kind of life, just an existence. we're laughing at the drunken state of the king. there's a girl shooting pool with her man and i'm watching her. late 20's, short blonde hair, great body, great rack. I'm looking at her ass as she bends over to take a shot. the rasta sees me taking her in. 'i bet you wouldn't mind getting up that, eh?' 'it looks good from here.' 'i've been up that,' he chuckles, 'it's good.' There's no chance anyway, she's off the pool table and on her man now, arms round his neck and smiling a big crooked smile, flashing him a look with her eyes. a look that was capable of causing a whole lot of trouble. By this time our ska legend has packed up and left the stage after struggling to convince the majority of the crowd that he was actually there in the first place. he had barely lasted twenty minutes. i could hear the balls clattering round on the pool table. Nat was playing pool with a couple of people i recognised from the bar out the back of my flat. Just then the king makes his way to the stage with a drunken stomp and clumsily takes the microphone. He's swaying from drink but i know he's had a dab of speed too so he's alert and ready to talk shit and spew forth like a burst sewer. 'Our ska legend has gone and finished 'cause he's knackered. he's old and past it and has gone for a lie down.'

The man he was talking about was obviously able to hear all this. there's some laughter in the room but there's also something else you can sense, an underlying unease to the whole situation.the king starts drawing the raffle that had been taken earlier. (i told you this guy was old school.) some guy wins a cheap third prize. i can't remember now what it was, i just remember it was unmemorable. the king is drunk, he knows his night that he has been talking up around town for six weeks has been a washout, he's getting a bit loose of the tongue and gives the guy a fair chunk of abuse along with his prize. the atmosphere begins to turn and then it happens. the king loses it and gives way to the impulses most affected by the booze and the drugs. second prize goes to a foreign girl. when the king realises she can't understand english and doesn't grasp his description of the prize, he leers at her from the microphone stand and says into the microphone 'you've won a shaftin' from me, luv.' she understands that alright. who wouldn't. the atmosphere of the place turns in an instant as the king stumbles forward to give her a prize and reaches for a tit while trying to give the unsuspecting prizewinner an inappropriate style of kiss. after that the king lost all control, he was completely given over to the hands of the booze and the speed and the adrenaline and the testosterone, and the hands of all of those things had completely let go of the reins. we didn't even get to first prize, the king forgot about the whole contest and was acting purely on his maniacally twisted wits. Focusing on the microphone he tries to pursue the subject one final desparate time.

'if any pussy, wants a screw, come see me in the toilets in five minutes. i'll give you first fucking prize.'
the place fell silent. on stage, the king just hung from the mic stand like a dirty old rag. i laughed and shook my head, looked at the rasta and he was doing the same. we were embarrassed for the king, and for the people he had insulted. all this was too much for most of the others. a fair portion of the crowd got up and left with an air of disgust and the event descended quickly into a non event. i looked over to where we'd been sat earlier. the skinhead was still stood in the same place, militantly bobbing away to the skank, seemingly oblivious to everything that had just taken place, but there was no music - the rhythm he swayed to was somewhere in his head.

I left soon after with the people from the bar near mine, two girls and a guy, odd in their own way, but then isn't everyone? We went to the bar i know them from, predictably. The girls, Anna and Julie, asking me questions and then looking at each other and laughing at my answers like they had some kind of private joke. i don't like in-jokers. Trying to amuse themselves and feel good about themselves and thinking that they're clever because they've got one up on you when really they're wasting their time because i couldn't care less. They were playing a pointless game. if they really were clever they would realise that the only way to live is to cut the bullshit out of your life rather than waste your time with the kind of fooling they were given over to. Dave, the guy they were with was a good kid, he offered to give me harmonica lessons and apologised for the girls. i don't know how or why he put up with them. i never bothered to ask. i got the hell out of there, i'd seen enough for one night. as i got to my doorstep the king was just pulling up outside with the rasta and a few others. he was radiating incoherence but still had the intention of an after party back at his castle. i didn't bother speaking to him, just entered my flat and went up the stairs with nothing else to do but lay on the sofa and listen to the skank boom from below. as i lay on the edge of the sofa and the edge of consciousness i imagined the skinhead still stood in the same position swaying to the music in his head in an empty room, an image punctuated only a moment later by the sound of the police turning up and i realised that the night had come to it's logical conclusion.

2004.