Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find

Cultured

Two Sevens Clash by Culture is, to me, ubiquitous with the John Peel show. I’m probably distorting fact with reality through the wonky prism of time, but I’m sure he played it regularly throughout the mid ’80s. Entry-level reggae, if you like, for roots ‘n radicals explorers wanting to dig deeper than Bob Marley, Two Sevens Clash is everything that’s great about the genre; it’s cavernous, it features a head-nodding groove and it’s sweet ‘n soulful. You knew that already though.

Before they went by the one word moniker, Culture were known as The Cultures and cut Trod On. Released in 1977, Trod On foreshadows the constituent parts that made Two Sevens Clash such a great record at the end of the same year.

The CulturesTrod On

It features a steady Eddie one-and-two-and-three-and-four rhythm, all concrete bass and chicka-chicka offbeat guitar, a toasting singer (Ranking Trevor) backed by some lovely falsetto vocals (that’ll be The Revolutionarys, you’d have to think) and a horn refrain that carries the whole track from beginning to end. With its ricocheting rim shots and vapour trailing vocal-ocal-ocals, the extended version above nicely skirts the outer limits of dub. It’s a great wee record.

As happenstance and kismet would have it, Trod On‘s earthy groove found its way east to 185 West Princes Street, Glasgow. Or to be more precise, it found its way east to the ears of Orange Juice, resident happening band at Postcard Records, the label that championed the sound of young Scotland and whose maverick supremo Alan Horne resided in the 2nd floor flat at that very address. 

Orange Juice had barely learned to walk when they stumbled upon (trod on?) Trod On. In need of a flip side to accompany the frantic knee tremble of their debut single Falling And Laughing, the band set about deconstructing The Cultures’ mid-paced groover and appropriated the horn refrain to their own ends.

Orange JuiceMoscow Olympics

Like all early Orange Juice tracks, when the band was still learning how to play together, and doing so in full view of the listener, Moscow Olympics fairly gallops along on a rickety bed of enthusiasm and wide-eyed self belief.

Amazingly/inspiringly, it sounds no different to the dozens of rehearsal room tapes that were recorded down the years in the bands I played in; ghetto blaster facing the wall and ‘record’ depressed in the hope it might magnetise some of the magic swirling in the air (sometimes it even did) but if you are able to focus between the the gaps in the scratchy ‘production’ and the faraway racket of drums (played somewhere near Sauchiehall Street while the other three apparently thrash it out over on Argyle Street), you’ll hear that Davy McClymont’s bass line on this recording is fantastic, a proper tune within a tune. The horn-aping guitar line is supremely confident too, never out of time or tune, and with nary a bum note to be heard.

The boys are on fine form, with drummer Daly and svengali Horne (Alan Wild, indeed) enthusiastically barking, yelping and football-chanting ‘Moscow!‘ at all appropriate points. It might only be the b-side of their first single, but despite the knees-out-the-new-school-trousers approach, the shambolic seeds of something special are being sown right before your very eyes and ears. It’s there in the interweaving guitar interplay and disco hi-hats; cheeky and Chic-y.

Being Orange Juice of course; arch, wry and post-punk rule breakers, they stuck two versions of the track on the b-side. Just for good measure. Because they could. And why not?

Orange JuiceMoscow

My dad’s old SLR camera, with its Moscow Olympics logo, used to fascinate me.

 

 

Get This!

I Can’t Get Enough Of This

Zoom!, the opening track on Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals‘ 7th album begins with a SPLASH! – the sound of guitar player Huw Bunford diving into a Catalonian swimming pool in a hopeful attempt to shake off the stifling sticky midday heat.

Super Furry AnimalsZoom!

At once you’re baptised, immersed in a new rich Super Furry sound that comes steeped in an MOR AOR FM sheen; the heady sound and heavy vibes of ’70s California, of the Holland-era Beach Boys and the coke-flecked Fleetwood Mac, arranged perhaps by David Axelrod. The Super Furries’ kitchen sink approach to their writing finds interweaving melodies and harmonies coasting atop a backing of tinkling, descending keys, a sprinkle of ascending spectral chants, skittering drum breaks and crisp, electric guitars – the sort of guitars where you can hear the fingers scrape across the fretboards as the chords and riffs change shape.

Midway through, the metaphorical clouds darken and those wordless, classical chants come to the fore, bringing with them an uneasy, end-of-the-world feeling that at times recalls The Smiths’ Death Of A Disco Dancer, itself a heavy, lengthy, descending journey into the mind.

‘I can’t get enough of this,’ goes Gruff Rhys. ‘Kiss me with apocalypse.’ The lyric throughout is suitably obscure and wide-ranging. Over the course of 7 headswimming minutes, it takes in Lord Lucan and Shergar, the Virgin Mary crying blood, driving to the Kwik Save in a Ford Mustang and a dalmation whose spots have fallen off. Proof, if it were needed, that the Super Furry Animals can pack more musical and lyrical ideas into one verse than a lot of bands can manage in a lifetime.

The second track, Atomik Lust, continues in the same lush vein. Lighter, more pop, it introduces itself on a bed of electrically enhanced backwards stuff, kept in check by rhythmically jangling sleigh bells and western saloon piano. By the second verse, honeyed Bacharach horns slide into earshot, subtle strings provide the counter melodies and the whole thing grooves smoothly into outer space. It’s fantastic.

Super Furry AnimalsAtomik Lust

A Super Furry change of pace finds it moving into sludge rock in the middle and again toward the end, a super-melodic track worthy of inclusion on, say, Pacific Ocean Blue, sandwiched between a squall of Spectorish drums and squealing guitars. It’s not all smooth LA vibes round here, they say without saying.

Love Kraft is a happy product of circumstance. Following the demise of Creation, the band found themselves signed to major label Columbia. Happy with their charges, the label funded recording in Spain and mixing in Brazil. Beastie Boys and Beck producer Mario Caldato was brought in to produce, and using the label’s funds, embellished the record with strings and brass and musical decoration that the band could only have dreamed off in the years previous. The result is an album that Gryuff Rhys himself says is the band’s pinnacle to date.

If you’ve never fully investigated Super Furry Animals, you might try their debut Fuzzy Logic and it’s follow-up Radiator, but I suggest you fast forward to album number 7 and work your way outwards from there. These days, bands never really split up. They take an extended hiatus, release solo albums and side projects, produce other bands perhaps, but eventually they always find one another again. Lets hope Super Furry Animals, one of our greatest, most-inventive, unique and special bands do likewise before much more time has elapsed.

Get This!, New! Now!

My Best Ideas Are Borrowed But They’re Never Half-Baked

Yard Act may well be the most important new band of this year. Judging by all that can be found online, it’s quite possible that they’ve written just four songs, but all appear on their super-limited, super sold out debut EP, Dark Days.

D’you know those two choppy minor chords that play behind the chorus on Roxy Music’s arty, decadent and oh so European Love Is the Drug? Yard Act have nicked them, welded them to Joey Santiago’s fire-spitting Uriah hit the crapper guitars from Pixies’ Dead and, by adding a sullen, gobby vocal, half Mark E Smith and half John Cooper Clarke, have gone about creating the most thrilling of title tracks on an EP that’s bursting with originality, vim and the odd sweary word. I think you’d like them very much.

It’s a never-ending cycle of abuse, I have the blues and I can’t shake them loose, goes the singer, spitting piss and vinegar through a megaphone for good measure, choppy basslines and a no-frills drummer holding it all in place. The vocals, all northern rap and Yorkshire tang are what sets it apart. There’s no singing in the traditional sense, until the choruses, when the monotone dark days title is repeated by the rest of the band. It’s a fat-free track, bereft of any superfluous nonsense. There are no obvious overdubs, no gimmicky production, just bass, drums, one guitar and the vocals on top, all in clear separation. Repetition is discipline said Mark E Smith and on this track…this EP…Yard Act have proven themselves to be the most disciplined of all.

Peanuts is two songs welded together in a spoken-word sandwich; the noise-clash first half, all discordant, cheesegrater Telecasters and drawling vocals that sound as if they’re being orated through a mouthful of Juicy Fruit, before giving way to the spoken word second half with a weeping Disney ambience in the background. Great punchline too, before the band kicks in for the last wee bit. I can guarantee, you haven’t heard a track like this ever.

Fixer Upper takes Jarvis Cocker’s take your year in Provence and shove it up your arse sentiments to the next level. I can’t believe I’m a two home owner, proclaims our protagonist, it’s a fixer upper though. The Polish builders’ll take care of it, cash in hand like. You can be sure of that. Great wee bit of percussion at the end too.

The Trappers Pelts grooves along on a bed of fuzz bass and hip-hop drums, not a million miles away from those Pixies again, twisted electric guitar sound effects and a vocal about, what, exactly? Entrepreneurship in the 21st century? The gig economy? You’re really all so desperate. Desperate! Despera-tuh! (Subtle influence clue there). HMRC, pay as you feel! I’ve no idea what it’s about, but in a head-nodding-to-the-groove kinda way, it sounds fantastic.

You might listen to all four tracks as they play on the Bandcamp app above, but can I suggest you watch the session below. All the visual clues point to the band’s peerless influences; a set dressed like The Smiths’ This Charming Man video, a Curtis/McCulloch grey mac, a singer that’s humourous, intelligent and charismatic, leading a band where each player knows his part…Yard Act are, like all the best bands, the sum of their influences and something inexplicably more. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.

Check the band’s Bandcamp page for merch, music and suchlike.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

‘king Tubby

There was a time before the first lockdown when I was approaching something that I might have considered (cough) peak fitness. The waist line was slowly reducing in inverse proportion to the kms clocked on the treadmill in the gym I’d started frequenting. Thanks to the ten minutes here and there on the rowing machine with the temperamental display and sqeaky seat, my shirt buttons no longer gaped and strained when I sat down. Even the odd punishing 3 minutes on the cross-trainer had, it seemed, its benefits. And I felt better.

By the second lockdown though, I was well on my way from 5K to couch. Before January was out, I’d smashed it. I’d tried running in the street. It was too cold, too wet, I looked daft, it made me too wheezy, whatever. Most of the time, I was gubbed and I could still see the roof of my house – and this was when it was pitch black at four in the afternoon. I went from hero to zero in one and a half lockdowns, a couch potato happily binging on McCoy’s flame-grilled steak crisps and marathon telly sessions. And it felt just as good, to be honest. Better even, if I’m being really honest.

Last week I had to return to my place of work, a roof under which I hadn’t been since the third week in December. The government’s advice of ‘if you can work from home, you should work from home’ was strictly adhered to and that work was duly done; more than normal some days, less than normal on others, just about balancing out come a Friday afternoon. But now, the frontline called. I popped the work trousers on last Monday and, oof! It was hard to believe that I’d ever managed to get the belt to the well-worn leather at the fourth notch at all. Here I was breathing in deeply and yanking it all the way to the second pathetic notch, the loose little bit of belt too short to tuck properly into the buckle. Nobody’ll notice, I figured, as the overhang obscures most of the buckle anyway. The state of me.

I hit the gym again a couple of days ago. And then again yesterday. I wasn’t quite queuing up to get in, but I did have the run of the place to myself, which was just as well. I swear my old friend the treadmill laughed at me as I eyed it up. Then it groaned as I stepped onto it. Who’s laughing now, eh, treadmill? I took it easy and slowly. After a few minutes I cranked it up to a speedy snail’s pace and then, with an extreme burst of lethargy and my aimed-for target somehow creeping up within reach, I managed to clock an impressive three kilometres. I ran three and a half yesterday, alongside 30 minutes of endurance work on the exercise bike, riding the Toblerone-shaped hills of the Swiss Alps whilst staring hollow-eyed at the playing fields of north Ayrshire.

The old trusty iPod soundtracked these sessions of pain, shuffling its way through a library of music it probably thought it would never play again. This long-forgotten rattlin’, reverberatin’ riot of dub reggae really hit the spot during the last ascent of those murderous fake alps.

King TubbyKing Tubby Dub

A whacked-out instrumental take on Rare Earth’s Motown standard Get Ready, King Tubby Dub is just about the right rhythm for pedalling up those imaginary mountainsides; hi-hats splashing in time to the wobbly legs pumping away at the pedals, horns blasting and forth as back teeth are gritted in pain, the ricocheting percussion bringing on ever-pooling beads of grotesque sweat.

The irony of a King Tubby track playing as I sweated out a year’s worth of crisps, alcohol and lockdown luxury was not lost. King Tubby? ‘king Tubby indeed.

Two sessions in and that belt is still only at the second notch though. Instant results are not forthcoming.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 33-end

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 33-end

 

The boys were taken in two cars to a police station twenty minutes away. At the station they each told their story in as honest a way as possible. They’d watched the man kill two of their friends in cold blood, they said. Everything happened so fast and unexpectedly. Several of the boys and the officers taking the statements had broken down when the explanation of how Stephen came to die was discussed.

Connor was distraught. Inconsolable. He’d found himself at Kimble because he’d stolen a few football magazines. He’d left Kimble, not yet a teenager, a murderer. Nothing the police officer said to him could appease his feelings. He feared for what sentence the judge might impose on him should he meet him again. Connor was certain he’d find himself back in court, this time on a murder charge.

By the time the sun was back up, they’d talked through the night, explaining and re-explaining in detail as best they could the events of the past day or so, the officers making sure every little nuance was spot on before being satisfied. They’d talked throught the night. None of the boys and none of the officers had slept.

At some point, someone brought in rolls with bacon and scrambled egg. There was a steaming pot of tea and glasses of fresh orange juice. As the boys ate and the officers filled in endless paperwork, the first of the parents began to arrive, eager to hug their boy and take them home, far away from Kimble, far away from the public eye.

Physically, it was easy to get away from Kimble. Mentally, not so.

 

 

Chapter 34

The Elements was never shown again. The anger and outrage that saturated social media in the days and weeks that followed – not anger at the show being axed, but outrage at how the makers of the show had been allowed to get away with the concept of it – mirrored the editorials and opinion pieces that ran in all the major quality publications, attacking the show’s producers who’d exploited young minds and lives to such degree. Being dead, there was no way of bringing any of the principal players to justice but, with an extensive independent investigation carried out at the government’s insistence, the authorities were keen to establish exactly what had gone on at Kimble.

The day arrived when the authorities caught up with all the boys and so, the day arrived when Connor was summoned to court. Celebrity being what it is, the boys’ names had all but fizzled out of the public eye in the intervening few months, discarded eventually for whatever fads and fashions constituted social media’s ‘new thing’, but there was nonetheless keen interest in the outcome of the story.

Connor entered the courtroom again, not an empty room as before, but a room with lawyers and witnesses and a public gallery that was packed full of nosey folk with nothing better to do.

The judge, that same wizened and yellowy, beaky man with the sorry sweep of hair across the top of his liver-spotted head looked Connor up and down.

“Young man,” he said disparagingly in his soft, Scottish burr. “You recently stood before me, and I very generously explained to you that I am a fair man and a believer in second chances.” He stopped, looking at Connor to emphasise the graveness of the situation he found himself in. “I am not, however, much of a believer in third chances.”

Connor gulped, hands politely behind his back and stole a glance at his parents, holding one another’s hands in a union of shared anguish.

“LOOK AT ME WHEN I AM ADDRESSING YOU, YOUNG MAN!”

The judge’s thin voice reverberated around the wood and glass interior. Connor fearfully gave him his attention. The judge paused, checking that the boy in front of him was all his, before continuing.

“I have listened to your version of events. I am sympathetic, to a degree, with the situation you found yourself in. Nevertheless, you have participated in a heinous and ghastly crime. One that left a young boy beaten to death. A young boy very much like yourself, with hopes and dreams and fanciful ideas for the future. You, along with your friends, took this from him. That, Mr Stewart cannot go unpunished.”

Connor gulped into a dry mouth.

“The sentence I am about to bestow upon you, you cannot appeal. It would have been much greater but for the fact you did not act alone and were under threat of death yourself had you not complied. Nonetheless, I am sentencing you to eight months hard labour with the Department of Enforcement. You will work from their Northern Shires depot. You will be taken there today and expected to begin work tomorrow.”

As a gasp rose from the public gallery and a shout of, ‘Oh no!’ came from his parents, Connor’s knees began to give way. Two prison officers had a hold of him suddenly, each with an elbow under each armpit to steady him until the judge was finished.

“Take him down,” the judge said in closing, the sharp rap of his gavel announcing this case was closed.

 

 

(The End)

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find

3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!

If I crane my neck out of the window over my right shoulder where I am currently writing, I can just about see the windmills at Whitelee Wind Farm, a massive 215-turbine development that is capable of powering over a third of a million homes and is very likely the reason these words make it beyond my fingertips and out into the great beyond. The wind farm is situated on Eaglesham Moor, a windswept, sparse and barren moorland that lies on the fringes of East Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire, just to the south of Glasgow. Before the motorway was extended close-by, it was often the route used by commuters who worked in East Kilbride and Motherwell. Using it in winter time was usually fraught with danger; single-lanes, sudden snowfalls, low-lying clouds of darkness. It was an imposing, unwelcoming part of the world.

Almost 80 years ago (May 1941), Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right hand man and orchestrator of much of the Nazi’s unforgiveable crimes against humanity, crashed his plane into the ground on Eaglesham Moor. Quite what he was doing flying solo over Scotland has never been satisfactorily explained, but common consensus would suggest that he was flying to meet the Duke of Hamilton – a well-connected figure – in an attempt to call an end to the Second World War. When his plane began running low on fuel, he began to bail out first his ammunition and then himself by parachuting before the inevitable happened.  A bang was heard as the explosives ignited, closely followed by the stuttering sound of his plane’s engine as it crashed nose-first into the peaty Scottish soil.

The locals of Eaglesham village, realising it was a German Messerschmitt that had come down, raced to get a closer look. First on-site was a pitchfork-wielding farmer, and it was he who Hess surrendered to. He was taken to the Home Guard in the nearby town of Busby, but it wouldn’t be until the following day, when military personnel began descending on the locality, that the pilot’s identity became apparent. Within a week, Hess was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was given the Prisoner of War number 31G-350125.

As you of course know, Joy Division‘s debut release, the An Ideal For Living EP featured dubious Nazi imagery. Alongside the band’s iffy name written in Germanic font, the sleeve shows a Hitler Youth drummer boy. Call it misguided, call it punk, but when the time came for the EP to be rereleased, it’s interesting to note that the drummer had been replaced by an arty shot of some scaffolding and the band’s name – still contentious of course – was printed in a much more agreeable font. The accusations of Nazi sympathy didn’t end though.

The opening track Warsaw – the band’s original name, after the city in Poland that the Germans laid siege on at the start of the war – began with a punkish shout of numbers, but not the enthusiastic and standard 1, 2, 3, 4! that countless bands have used to herald their giddy arrival. Warsaw begins with an enthusiastic “3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!“, not quite the number of the beast, but not far from it. Joy Division laid out their statement of intent by counting off with Rudolph Hess’s Prisoner of War number. And for good measure, they repeated the 31G prefix over and over in the chorus.

Joy DivisionWarsaw

Now, the mid ’70s was a time of Warlord and Victor comics, of Commando books and Sven Hassel novels, of best man’s fall in the playground. It was an era when you could ask your grandparents what they had done in the war and they still had the grey matter and compos mentis to tell you. Many cities bore the scars of bombed-out, shell-shocked destruction. Kids played on the rubble where former factories stood. For many in ’70s UK, the memories of the war were clearer and easier to recall than what they’d eaten for yesterday’s breakfast.

That Joy Division had something of an obsession with WWII was not that unusual. In fact, it was pretty normal. To put it into perspective, less time had elapsed between the Second World War ending and Joy Division releasing An Ideal For Living than the time between New Order’s Ceremony and their return-to-form of sorts album, Music Complete. Just let that sink in.

The track that brought Joy Divison to the world is an angry blast of prime punk; insistent, exciting and real, with a great wheezing, descending riff between the choruses and the verses. Even this early on, Stephen Morris’s drums have a slight tang of electronic treatment, rattling and reverberating between Ian Curtis’s punkish shout and Peter Hook’s solid slab of bass, as far removed from his signature sound as you could possibly get.

By all accounts, Joy Division were quite the thrill in the live setting, and, as self-producers, they captured just that on Warsaw and the rest of the EP. It’s essential listening and still thrilling even after all these years. You knew that already though.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 28-32

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 28-32

 

The two officers in the patrol car had been asked to investigate a disturbance at somewhere called Kimble. The sat nav in the squad car was no use. It was either outdated, they reasoned, like most of their equipment, and couldn’t show them directions to a place it didn’t know existed, or the signal to the sat nav was poor.

Using his own phone, the officer in the passenger seat called up the co-ordinates but it too couldn’t pinpoint Kimble. It seemed strange that they shouldn’t know about the place, given that it was seemingly local and responsible for the TV show that was the subject of almost all conversation in the squad cars and station staff room. Repeated requests to recheck the co-ordinates had been met with the same answer – ‘those are the co-ordinates we have…Kimble must be around there somewhere.’ The driver continued to drive fruitlessly, returning to roads he had previously driven, passing the same landmarks from different directions, squinting in the dark for some place he’d never seen before.

 

 

Chapter 29

The man had his master key and after entering the first three rooms they’d come to – McPherson’s, Stewart’s and Campbell’s – was convinced that Zimmerman had lied to them. It was in the next room that his opinion began to change. The boys had definitely been here recently. Harrison’s room was just as untidy as the others, but the drawers had been left gaping and open and as the man rattled one of them in anger, he saw that they were all empty. There were no clothes there at all. Cameron confirmed that the wardrobe too was empty, save for the two pairs of boots at the bottom.

By the time they’d left Reilly’s room and then Alan’s, it became clear that the boys had packed up and run off. They checked the others. Burgess’s room was tidy. There were clothes in the drawers and wardrobe. Given that Burgess lay dead in the hospital morgue, this was no surprise. It was the same in Anderson’s.

Rounding the corner, they were surprised to find Fowler’s door open. They were even more surprised to find Zimmerman sitting on the bed, his back to the open door. The man, ready to go for Zimmerman, hastily recoiled when he heard the voice of Arkwright speaking from within.

“As soon as John and Joseph return, we’ll retire to the board room, all of us, and sort this mess out.”

The mention of the board room set the man’s teeth on edge. The scene of his most humiliating backtracks, it was in there that he’d been told he must vet all questions ahead of press conferences. It was in there too that he’d been told he must return the boy Stewart’s phone. The man had no respect for Arkwright and the others’ authority, but for his own good, he grudgingly did as he was told. If he could get his story straight tonight, there was a faint chance that he might leave here unscathed and still as rich.

He stepped inside Fowler’s room, followed closely by Cameron who had one hand on the butt of the gun inside his trouser pocket.

“Mr Arkwright, sir! Professor Zimmerman!”

They turned, as surprised to see the man as he had been to see them.

The man turned on his best charm. “You know Cameron, don’t you? We’ve been looking everywhere for the contestants. I had hoped to calm them after the events from earlier on.” Scanning the room, he put on an exaggerated expression of dismay. “Have they gone?!”

“It appears so,” said Arkwright. “By the looks of it, they left in a hurry too. Almost as if they were extremely frightened…”

The man looked at Arkwright, trying to work him out.

“I know what happened, y’know. It’s all on CCTV.”

The man continued looking at Arkwright. Was he bluffing?

“Three young boys dead. Two shot, one beaten on your instructions. This is a catastrophe of untold proportions, man!”

Arkwright’s voice was steady, quiet and measured.

The man began to talk until Arkwright held up a hand to silence him.

“We will talk in the board room. We must get a story straight before the authorities arrive. Whatever we decide, though, one thing is certain. You will need to disappear.”

There was an inference in the last word that the man didn’t like. It seemed to him that he was about to be hung out to dry, or worse. The three grey men in the grey suits would hold their hands up in despair and somehow salvage the show. He though, it seemed, would never be seen again.

 

 

Chapter 30

As the squad car drove aimlessly in ever-widening circles, the officer in the driving seat peered out into one of the dark country lanes they’d driven up a short while ago.

“Is that someone running?” he asked his partner.

“It certainly looks like it,” came the reply. “At this time of night?”

The car soon caught up with whatever was ahead, and sure enough, it was someone running. As the police car approached, the runner turned his head in surprise. His hair gave him away.

“Hey!” said the driver. “That’s that Harrison boy from the show!”

The Elements-branded backpack and clothing confirmed it. Harrison stopped running and, picked out by the yellowy twin beam of the headlights, bent over, panting and catching his breath. Clouds of his breath puffed out into the cold night air before evaporating around his head. He stood straight, exhaling, hands on his lower back as the two officers approached him.

“Alright, sir?” said the first officer. He had an accent that Harrison had heard before but couldn’t place.

“Is everything OK?”

Harrison wasn’t sure how to answer. The second officer spoke. He had the same accent.

“Harrison, isn’t it? Have you come from Kimble? Are you running from there?”

“We’re responding to reports of a disturbance. Would you know anything about it, at all?”

Harrison nodded.

“Would you like to sit in the car, sir, and tell us what you know?”

Harrison, tired and cold and desperately missing his parents told them everything.

The officers, not expecting a story quite like the one they were hearing, sat in silence as Harrison’s version of events unravelled from the back seat of the police car.

“I think,” said the first officer, not entirely without reason, “that we may need some assistance.”

The second officer sparked the radio into life. He requested back-up, asking that they locate them in the country lane where they were currently parked. Harrison had offered to show the officers where Kimble was, but the officers weren’t going anywhere near the place until they had help from their colleagues. Even then, they feared, that might not be enough.

 

 

Chapter 31

John and Joseph had searched high and low for the man and Cameron. They hadn’t cleared it with Arkwright – hadn’t needed to clear it – but they’d intended to kill them both wherever they found them. Once they’d done that, they’d sit down, the three of them, and concoct a story that explained all of the deaths and, crucially, keep their names out of it. With them nowhere to be found, John and Joseph had returned to Fowler’s room.

They were surprised to find Arkwright and Zimmerman chatting with the man and the boy Cameron. The atmosphere was tense, but neither side wanted to appear irritable or aggressive. On seeing John and Joseph return, Arkwright broke into a smile.

“Ah, gentlemen! It seems everyone is here at last. Shall we head to the boardroom and get down to the business of getting our stories straight?”

“No time for that,” said Cameron. He hadn’t spoken in the entire time they’d been in Fowler’s room and was getting anxious and trigger-happy. Without warning, he pulled his gun and shot at Arkwright. Arkwright fell, clutching his neck and shoulder. He was dead before he hit the floor. John and Joseph pulled their guns at the same time as the man and all three fired.

Poor Zimmerman was caught in the crossfire and flopped dead on the bed. One of the other bullets, Joseph’s, as the ballistics team confirmed afterwards, shot the man in the head, instantly dead. Cameron shot again and Joseph keeled over awkwardly, blood oozing onto his grey waistcoat from the neat hole in his stomach. Cameron was quick on the draw but as he reloaded and fired a third time, a bullet from John shot him through the chest. The bullet from Cameron’s own gun had already left the chamber and, just as John registered his hit on Cameron, he was killed by Cameron’s last bullet.

The whole episode lasted a few seconds. As the walls rang to silence, the tendril smell of gunpowder crept around and out of the room. In the room, all five occupants lay dead. At that precise moment in time, no-one inside Kimble was alive.

 

 

Chapter 32

Outside, the boys’ meditative silence was broken.

“Is that gunfire?” asked Reilly.

No sooner had he asked than the firing stopped.

“Sounded like it,” said Fowler. He was keeping his voice low. “Maybe three shots. D’you think anyone else has been shot?

“I think there were more than three shots,” said Alan, sounding worried.

The boys slunk into the shrubbery behind them. They barely noticed the cobwebs on their faces or the waxy damp leaves on their necks. They stayed huddled and silent, listening for any other signs of activity inside the house.

“I wonder who shot who…it’s very quiet,” pointed out Alan once more. “D’you think anyone else is dead?”

They remained hidden in the bushes, afraid to step out and check for signs of movement from the house, unsure of what to do.

“We sit it out and wait,” implored Connor. “We’ve made it this far. The police can’t be far off.”

The police weren’t far off. Three squad cars and an unmarked saloon carrying two senior officers had met the two officers and Harrison. Giving directions from the back seat of the front squad car, Harrison led the convoy to the house.

The boys, cold, damp and hiding in the undergrowth, were ecstatic to see the tell-tale flash of blue lights illuminate between the trees. Their flickers briefly lit up the surrounding area in a strobing flash of electric blue, shadows distorting and bending grotesquely as the police cars sped, siren-free, towards the entrance to Kimble.

It took half a dozen officers to disable the locked gates through brute force and, as the cars swept towards the main door, the boys stepped out from the shrubbery. A blinding flashlight shone in their faces and a voice from behind it asked if they were safe. Connor stepped forward, hands open in front of him.

“We’re safe, yes, but we heard gunfire a little while ago from inside the house. There were about four or five shots. It’s been quiet since.”

A female officer and two older men wearing dark suits rather than uniforms came towards them with blankets and wrapped them around each of the boys’ shoulders. As they fussed over the boys, asking if they were hurt or had any injuries, telling them that everything was going to be OK and that their parents would be on their way, half a dozen police officers broke the door down and entered Kimble. Their job was just beginning.

 

 

 

(more to follow in the future)

Hard-to-find

Yes-Man for The NoMen

It’s a payola scandal! A great rock ‘n roll swindle! Under incessant pressure and non-stop pushing of ‘product’, Plain Or Pan has succumbed to the bung and the bribe. With a pocketful of untraceable fivers and the number for a burner phone that I’ve been assured will offer up the earthiest of earthly delights, I bring you The NoMen. They have me in their collective pocket and, to be honest, there are far worse places you could find yourself. Their latest album, A Bad Reputation Is A Good Place To Start might sound like the sort of title The Cramps would’ve given to any number of their 2-minute punkish twangers, but the 20 tracks contained therein sound in equal parts wonky, obtuse, singular and entirely heartfelt and dedicated. I daresay there’s a Lux influence in there somewhere, but there’s so much more besides.

 The NoMen have been around for almost twenty years and remain something of a mystery. Despite radio specials in France, Germany and Canada, they have appeared live only twice, much preferring instead to bunker down in the studio and produce album after album of self-mad, self-made, lo-fi psychedelia. To date they have released at least 8 or 12 or 17 albums. It’s hard to tell, and harder to keep up with. The Pain Of Jazz. If Not Why, Then When? Straight To Dave. Dawn Of The NoMen. Just some of the unique and uncategorisable albums in their back catalogue that might warrant your attention.

Self-proclaimed children of Ed Wood and Joe Meek, their blend of fuzz-soaked, analogue boppery skirts around the same sort of margins as artists as individual and diverse as Psychic TV, Ween and Buffy Sainte Marie.

On the latest LP, a collaboration no less between NoMen and ex Swell Maps’ Phones Sportsman, the tracks that first pricked my ears included the campfire lullaby of HuMan (Evolution In A Nutshell), worth the price of admission for the extended coda alone, and Karma Pyjamas, a track that falls short of two minutes but manages to fuse the day-glo imagination of Super Furry Animals with Robert Kirby’s string arrangements for Nick Drake underneath a sneering vocal that wouldn’t sound out of place in a high camp ’70s horror film.

Elsewhere in this pot pourri of controlled madness, you’ll come across drawling Cope-ish, Mark E Smith-like vocals, subsonic fuzz bass and all manner of jerky, quirky incidental parts.

You’re never far from a Radiophonic Workshop-influenced proto-electro whoosh or a Dalek-voiced Cabaret Voltaireism or a janglin’, reverb-soaked 12 string guitar, and often, you’ll hear all three of these disparate influences before the band has alighted on the first chorus. The NoMen dig anything from the outer musical margins that might have been released between ’65 and ’75; the more obscure, the more discordant, the path less-travelled, all the better. Eno, Ono, you know….

…and their brilliantly bizarre tribute to Floran Schneider has to be seen to be believed.

You should investigate by visiting their Bandcamp page tout de suite. Now, where did I leave that number for the burner phone?`

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Serious Drug Addict

Born out of the blues boom of the early ’60s, the Thames Estuary scene was a fertile breeding ground for the stars of the decade and beyond. Away from the distractions of London city centre, it proved the ideal training ground for the very musicians who’d help make the city swing in the coming months and years; Jagger and Richards were welded at the snake-hips as a result of a shared love of Chess Records. Alexis Korner’s blues nights in the Ealing Jazz Club brought together like-minded afficianados in the shape of Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and both Clapton and Page would take stints as lead guitarist in The Yardbirds, a role also filled by Jeff Beck. Amongst it all was John Mayall, his Bluesbreakers band a constantly-revolving who’s who of the movers and shakers of ’60s guitar-based music; Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor… you name them, they likely appeared on stage or on record with John Mayall in one way or other. It was a small scene, they say, but a highly influential one which helped shape the popular music of the day. You knew all that already though.

Fast forward to Lanarkshire in the mid ’80s. A short train ride away from the attraction and distraction of Glasgow city centre, a scene – let’s call it the Bellshill Boom – developed around the singular vision and concept of Duglas Stewart. Born out of a love of post-punk, sunshine pop and anything with a decent haircut (although…check below for conflicting proof), this scene was, in its own way, just as influential as that satellite scene around London 20 or so years previously. Taking their cues and clothes from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jonathan Richman and the melancholic ache of Burt Bacharach, Stewart’s band BMX Bandits led the way, the real sound of the suburbs, a Bluesbreakers for the Bellshill beat brigade.

Cor!

Like a foppish, pointy-fingered John Mayall, Duglas curated a group of musicians that created a new sound of young Scotland – twee, perhaps, arch, certainly, and totally at odds with the Caledonian bombast currently being force-fed via commercial radio, but with an element of fun running through it like the lettering on a stick of Blackpool rock.

That the individual Bandits were free to come and go, to form other bands, to play on other people’s records only added to the looseness of it all, but every one of those players has, at one point or other, said just how formative being in the BMX Bandits was.

Once a Bandit, always a Bandit, as Duglas has said. He’s watched on, headmaster-like, as his charges have gone on to form (deep breath) Teenage Fanclub, The Soup Dragons, The Pearlfishers, The Vaselines…and all of the side-projects there-of; Hi-Fi Sean, The Primary Five, Future Pilot AKA, Superstar, Green Peppers, Linden etc etc. If Pete Frame were to produce a Rock Family Tree for the Bellshill scene, it’d be longer and more detailed than the Bayeaux Tapestry.

BMX Bandits are the very epitome of cult. As a favour to Alan McGee they took a youthful Oasis on tour with them, a mismatched yin-yang of non-macho and monobrowed mayhem if there ever was one. Kurt Cobain sported their t-shirts and was quoted as saying that if he could be in any other band, it’d be BMX Bandits. Duglas may well be the Scottish equivalent of Daniel Johnston, another of Kurt’s favourites and, like Duglas, a writer of simple, tear-soaked heart-jerkers, unpretentious and innocent.

In some quarters BMX Bandits were considered a kind of joke band, but to those in the know, their songs, in equal parts life-affirming and heart-breaking, are perfect little vignettes of proper Scottish soul, a considered mix of the fragility of sandpit-era Brian Wilson with a wide-eyed wonder at the world around them. Their 1991 album Star Wars is set for reissue on May 4th (obviously) via Last Night From Glasgow. Having received an early copy last week, I’ve been on something of a Bandits binge for the past few days; Come Clean, The Sailor’s Song, later songs like That Summer Feeling and Little Hands. All essential listening. The track though that’s really stopped me in my, er, tracks is Serious Drugs.

BMX BanditsSerious Drugs

Serious Drugs was released as a single in 1993 and appeared on the Life Goes On album. Both single and album failed to bother the charts. Nothing unusual in the world of the BMX Bandits, but in the case of Serious Drugs, it’s Serious Shrugs – the great lost number 1 hit that never was.

Voiced not by Duglas but by Joe McAlinden, Serious Drugs is a fantastic record, the sound perhaps of Teenage Fanclub respectfully tackling My Sweet Lord.

It’s there in that E minor to A major chord change. It’s there in the “ooh-la, ooh-la-la-laCome Up And See Me backing vocals. And it’s definitely there in that super-charged slide guitar part after the first bridge when Joe and Norman come over, just for a moment, all John ‘n Paul. The melding together of McAlinden’s and Blake’s voices is sublime, Joe high and keening, Norman low and honeyed. Serious love, indeed. And that spangled, high in the mix Big Star acoustic guitar…the compressed drums…the frugging bassline… Serious Drugs wears its influences proudly but politely in a way that someone like Noel Gallagher could never grasp.

By the time the saxophone solo has oozed and eased its way to the forefront and is leading the band to their rasping fadeout, you’re already thinking about playing it all again. Serious Drugs is seriously great. I suspect you knew that already too.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 24-27

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 24-27

 

Arkwright pressed a button on his dashboard and the huge metal gates of Kimble parted. Once through, they closed again to the outside world. The silver saloon crunched smoothly past the fountain and parked outside the large black storm doors that opened into Kimble. He and John and Joseph emerged from the car as one. The doors slammed shut at the same time and they marched in time to the steps leading to Kimble’s doors. Crunch crunch crunch. Arkwright looked the length and breadth of the building as he walked. Most of the lights were out, as they should be at this time, but one or two lit windows here and there suggested activity. Staff offices, the hospital, the management area; all bathed the shrubbery outside in shallow yellow and white light.

John was first at the door and it was his fingerprint that opened it. The three stepped inside and stood in the hallway. There was no sign here of any wrongdoing. Arkwright nodded to his companions and they followed him up the staircase. At the top they turned a sharp right and headed straight for their shared office, the soles of Arkwright’s Italian leather shoes echoing through the glossy white corridor. Only once inside did they speak.

“Joseph, get the monitors up and running, will you? And override the main function – I want to see and hear into every room until we find out what’s been going on.”

Joseph set to work and within a minute, four large TV screens on the wall mirrored what he had on his laptop. The three of them studied what they could see.

On the first screen, remote video cameras showed images from every corner in Kimble. Camera 17b was the most interesting. It was located in the small anteroom behind the meeting room. Joseph zoomed in. Even in black and white, it wasn’t difficult to make out the flickering pictures of the bloody mess that was still there.

On the second screen, the thermal imaging showed activity inside one of the contestant’s rooms. The image quickly changed back and forth, the thermal glow intermittently replaced by dark grey night vision, like that of a nature programme showing badger activity. The boys’ eyes – it was hard to make out how many were in there – were little white dots. Occasionally the dots would flash. A quick tap on the keyboard confirmed the room belonged to Fowler, number 2. Using the overridden microphone, they could hear voices – they had no idea which voice belonged to who, but they did recognise the American twang of Zimmerman. He was in the room with them. This puzzled them somewhat.

On the third screen, Camera 48 had picked up the presence of the man and Cameron in the hospital. They were each sitting on the edge of a bed, heads down and engrossed in their phones. The hidden microphone picked up no voices.

On the fourth screen, The Elements social media feeds scrolled past in real time. Every post – currently around 8,000 a minute, according to the digital clicker in the corner of the screen, related to horror and chaos and rumours of killing. The police were tagged into many of the posts, so it wouldn’t be long before they showed up. Parents too would at this very moment be speeding in cars on motorways to Kimble, most travelling south, a few from the east. Not that they’d find it easily, even if they were in the general area of Kimble within an hour or two. Arkwright, John and Joseph would worry about them when the time came.

“Gentlemen,” Arwkright spoke. “What is your take on all of this?”

John answered immediately.

“It looks to me as though our man and his apprentice have spooked the boys and their shrink into sharing a room for the night. And I reckon the spooking might be due to what Camera 17b is showing us. Not only that, but it seems the public knows about it too. In fact, it appears that they might know more about this than us!”

Joseph had no more to add.

“So who do we speak to first? The man or the boys?”

There followed a grumbling, animated debate until it was decided. They’d speak to the boys first.

 

 

 

Chapter 25

Zimmerman explained the man’s plan. The man, he said, had asked him to find them. He wanted to strike a deal – Financial, boys! Big money! – that would see everyone – Zimmerman included – complete The Elements with no more threat of death. Yes, the boys would still be eliminated after each round until only one remained, but no-one, he promised, would die. For this to work, though, there would need to be an understanding that none of them could ever tell the true version of what had happened here tonight.

There followed much discussion and toing and froing between the boys and Zimmerman. Why hadn’t the man come down here to tell them this himself, they asked? Why should they trust him? Did the man think they were all stupid?! The Elements was finished, as far as they could see, said Alan, so they should just sit it out here until the authorities arrived. Tell the man that you can’t find us or something.

In the middle of the debate, Zimmerman’s phone rang. The room fell silent as he answered.

“No…not yet. I think I’ve located some thermal activity in the dormitories though. Yes…the boys’ rooms…no, I haven’t pinpointed which one. It won’t take me long. Yes, I will call you as soon as I have them.”

“What’d you tell him that for?!” shouted Fowler. “They’ll be halfway here by now.”

Zimmerman spoke, but no-one was listening. Panic ensued, boys clattering into one another in the dark, some wanting to take their chances and run. Reilly and Alan hid in the bathroom. Harrison remained focused on the door.

“Boys,” spoke Zimmerman over the chaos. “BOYS! I have already stalled the man for 20 minutes. You are lucky he is not at the door already.” He waited until the room had calmed once more. “Whether you really want to or not, I will message him and tell him you wish to discuss his offer. I can say that I will take you all to him. This might buy us more time, but not a lot. In the meantime, assuming you do not want to go through with the man’s idea, we need to think of a plan.”

Just as Arty finished up, there was a loud knock on the door. The room froze.

 

 

 

Chapter 26

Arkwright, John and Joseph had headed straight for the boys’ dormitories. Arkwright suggested that he alone do all the talking. They’d reached the door and
Joseph had knocked loudly. Not waiting for a reaction, Arkwright stepped closer to the door and raised his voice.

“Professor Zimmerman. This is Arkwright. Please allow me to enter.”

At the mention of Arkwright’s name, Zimmerman’s mood instantly lightened. “Boys,” he whispered excitedly. “Mr Arkwright is the boss of all of this. He hates the man even more than I do. He’ll know exactly what to do!”

The professor replied.

“Mr Arkwright! I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Professor Zimmerman. May we come in, please?”

The professor whispered once more to the boys, convincing them that opening the door to Arkwright would be a safe thing to do. On the others’ say so, Fowler opened his door. The three men entered. One of them tapped some numbers into the keypad by the door and the room was once again illuminated in sterile lighting.

The boys blinked, squinted and looked at the three strangers who now made the room very cramped indeed.

“Professor Zimmerman,” nodded Arkwright. “Boys. My name is Wilbur Arkwright. I run Kimble Productions, the company responsible for The Elements show. I understand there’s been a bit of, eh, an issue this evening?”

Everyone spoke at once until Connor was delegated to do all the talking. Silence fell once more as he explained through tears how the events had unfolded, from the three nominations to Stephen being voted out first, then the talk from the man that explained that each of them would batter Stephen to death, to the boys and Stephen being taken in to the room with the baseball bats and the shooting of Burgess, then Grayson when they refused to participate, to the ritualistic clubbing to death of a boy by his friends, before the man telling them to leave. Explained in detail, it made for a horrific true story.

“Here’s what I propose we do,” said Arkwright after quiet deliberation. “John and Joseph here will find the man and his accomplice, that Cameron boy, and will see to it that they are properly dealt with. None of you should be here. It is not safe. I will open the doors of Kimble right now and allow you to leave. Go to your rooms, pack what you need and meet back in here as soon as you can.

 

 

 

Chapter 27

The six boys were gone no longer than a few minutes before they were all once again in Fowler’s room. Only Zimmerman and Arkwright remained, with John and Joseph presumably having gone to find the man and Cameron. With clothes and possessions quickly stuffed into either luggage or Elements backpacks, they stood expectantly, awaiting Arkwright’s instructions.

“Ready?” He looked at them individually until each acknowledged him in the affirmative. “Follow me then. Professor Zimmerman? Will you accompany the boys and myself?”

With Arkwright leading and Zimmerman at the rear, the group made their way quickly through the corridors and into the reception hall at the main front doors.

As they did this, Cameron and the man, fed up with Zimmerman’s stalling and half-baked attempts to locate the boys, were making their way from the hospital wing to the dormitory area. If the boys were here, all they had to do, the man reasoned, was check each room until they found them.

“This is where we bid farewell, boys,” said Arkwright with encouragement. “Go! Run! There is a village a few kilometres beyond the trees. It has a railway station. I suggest you board the first train that passes through and get yourselves to safety.”

With this, he pushed wide the doors and opened his arms.

“Go! While you still can!”

The boys looked at Arkwright. They looked at Zimmerman.

“Go, boys! Please! This is the safest way,” said Zimmerman, reinforcing Arkwright’s instructions.

As they left, walking, not running, confused rather than committed, Connor turned to speak to them. He had no words to say. ‘Thanks’ would have been the obvious thing, but this didn’t feel like a ‘thanks’ sort of situation. They were being abandoned, thrown out, left to fend for themselves. Surely there was a safe area inside Kimble where they could be kept until the police arrived?

Connor turned his back on the men and quickened his step to catch up with the others. As he did so, the heavy wooden doors of Kimble shut with a dull thud behind him.

“Guys, this isn’t right.” Connor addressed the boys with a confident voice. “They shouldn’t be throwing us out and asking us to run away. I say we sit here, on the steps, until the police get here.”

The boys’ conversation became animated and heated. No way was Harrison staying here, he said. He was heading straight for the train station. Reilly was concerned, quite rightly, with the man and Cameron. They would find them, he reasoned, and when they did, they’d kill them all. Escape was the best idea. Alan and Fowler sided with Connor. Staying here, outside the house, where there was plenty of woodland and shrubbery to hide in should they need to, was the best idea. The police would be here at some point, at which they’d be safe. Campbell reasoned that staying together as a group was a far better idea than everyone going off individually, a theory heartily agreed by Alan and Fowler. After discussing the pros and cons, only Harrison remained unconvinced.

“I’ll see you pussies somewhere down the road, then,” he said. He waited a second or two longer, perhaps to see if anyone might talk him out of leaving, or even join him, before turning on his heels and jogging off. He was swallowed up by the black of the night and quickly, even his gravelly footsteps faded to nothingness too. Harrison was gone.

The others looked around, identified an area in the shadows and regrouped there. It was only then that the enormity of everything that had happened began to take hold. Conversation ceased and each boy was left in his own thoughts. We’ve murdered someone, realised Connor with increasing horror. He broke down once more and quietly sobbed, the silence around him seeming to magnify each incoherent gasp.

 

(more to follow in the future)