Do Wah Diddy Diddy
‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street …’, Brian’s hand beat out the rhythm on the steering wheel.
‘Singing Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo…’ chimed the other four voices.
The car swerved to the left as a large blue bus was careering towards them taking up most of the street.
‘We’ll never find anywhere to park,’ moaned Brian, ‘Everywhere’s packed.’
‘Fuck it. Park in a No Waiting area,’ said Nick, ‘It’s nearly eight o’clock. You won’t get done.’
‘I don’t fancy leaving it on the street round here anyway,’ said Brian.
Steve could see his point. The gleaming two-tone Vauxhall Victor, in two tones of equally unpleasant green, was out of place on the slush-covered streets of central Grimleigh. It was Brian’s pride and joy, and he was the only student Steve knew with a car, and also, it was brand-new. Brian’s dad was the largest Vauxhall dealer in Essex, and provided his son with a succession of demonstrators for a few weeks at a time. Not that there was anything young, fashionable or in any way cool about the slab-sided Victor, but it was new and it was big. The latest model for 1967.
They were on their way to the university Coming-Up Dance after the New Year break. Five of them squeezed into Brian’s car. Steve and Nick were in the back with Rob, who hadn’t wanted to come to see Manfred Mann anyway.
That’s Rob, who’d never heard of Manfred Mann anyway. ‘We don’t get a lot of pop groups in Wiltshire,’ he said, ‘Well, Adge Cutler and the Wurzels in the cider tent at the County Show in Devizes last year, but I didn’t bother. They had an AI demonstration, see … that’s artificial insemination … going on and I wanted to see how far he got his arm up …’
‘Shut the fuck up,’ said Nick. Nick was from Liverpool and had already regaled them with tales of The Beatles, The Searchers, The Big Three and God and all his angels playing The Cavern at lunchtime. An event which half a million Liverpudlians had squeezed their way into on a daily basis, or you had to assume that, as Steve had never met one of any age who hadn’t claimed to have been there. Nick had told them that every group from Liverpool was in a stratosphere way above Manfred Mann. Steve had protested that they were brilliant doing a late night blues show on Southern Television. That had sealed their fate with Nick, ‘Southern Television? Southern Fucking Television?’ I told you they were no good.’
Brian, their host and chauffeur, was the editor of Poetic Ear after a mere term at Grimleigh, and Steve had met him a couple of times after Brian agreed to publish a short poem by Steve. Until he saw it in cold print, Steve had been blissfully unaware of how excruciatingly bad it was. The front passenger seat was occupied by Alfred. Alfred with his shoulder length black hair, and trim goatee beard, the most prolific contributor to Poetic Ear. Steve had never met an Alfred who used the name in full. ‘Pair of poofs,’ according to Rob and Nick, though Steve had actually read Poetic Ear, one of the few who had, and assumed Brian’s graphic gynaecological descriptions proved his heterosexuality, or at least proved adequate heterosexual experience. They’d been offered the lift, and on a dank night on the freezing streets of Grimleigh, the offer was welcome.
‘There’s a space!’ said Nick.
The car slewed sideways as Brian braked, ‘I can’t get it in there. It’s too small.’
‘’As the bishop said to the choir boy …’ said Nick, ‘For fuck’s sake, let me park it for you.’
‘My dad only insured me. I don’t want to scratch it.’
‘As the actress said to the bishop, but with crabs you don’t have an option.’
‘No, it’s much too short. I couldn’t get it in.’
‘Not another bishop joke,’ yawned Steve, ‘Please, no.’
‘We’ve got to do something,’ protested Nick, ‘If we get there too late, we’ll miss the local tarts. Or just get the fat and ugly ones left over.’
It happened at every university dance. They were open to students and guests, so when major groups played, there’d be a crowd of local girls outside the door, asking students to get them in. Steve was fully aware that once inside the door, the girls would disappear at high speed, having no interest in snotty students. Nick had lost his four shillings and sixpence at least twice. Steve had never been daft enough to offer to pay their entrance fee. Nick had. And Nick saw tonight as a chance to pick up a Grimleigh girl.
‘There’s a queue halfway down the road at the car park,’ said Brian, ‘And the “full” sign’s up.’
Steve wondered why he hadn’t taken the bus in the first place, ‘What time do they start?’
‘The dance started at half-seven, but there’s some local group on first.’
‘They won’t be on till half-eight at least,’ said Brian, ‘Look I can drop you lot off and …’
‘OK,’ said Rob, ‘Good plan, chum. You drop us off.’
Steve shifted uncomfortably. Etiquette demanded you stay with your driver, ‘No, Brian,’ he murmured, ‘We’re all in this together.’
Nick kicked him hard on the ankle.
They slowly circled the block outside the Grimleigh Corporation Ballroom again. A bunch of girls were accosting the pimply students on the way in. The mini-skirts and elaborate hairstyles screamed, ‘You should be so lucky …’ but the spotty lads were taking the bait. Physics students, thought Steve. 95% males in the physics faculty.
Suddenly Nick shouted, ‘Did you see that? Go round again.’
‘What was it?’ asked Brian.
‘Artistes car park. Right behind the ballroom. We’ll go in there.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ said Brian, ‘We’re not the artists.’
‘Artistes. Fuck it, they’ll never know, Big shiny new car. No problem. What are they going to do anyway?’
‘Yeah, try it,’ said Steve.
‘Why not?’ added Rob.
Steve looked at the back of Alfred’s head. He hadn’t moved once nor said a word.
‘OK,’ sighed Brian, ‘But if …’
They circled the block. There were two policeman by the tall iron gates, ‘Just look confident and drive in,’ hissed Nick.
They eased over the pavement. One policeman waved them forward.
‘Go on, you prick!’ said Nick.
They bumped over the entrance. Brian braked. There was a crowd of girls by the back door. The car stopped. As if in slow motion, the girls turned. The screams split the air. A frozen moment, then the car was surrounded by screaming faces with scarlet lipstick and black mascara.
‘What the fuck …’
Alfred was scrabbling for the door in panic.
‘Don’t open the fucking door …’ shouted Nick. But he already had.
‘Alfred!’ shouted Brian, ’…fred!’
‘Manfred!!!’ shouted a hundred girls.
Steve reached over, pulled Alfred to the middle of the car and slammed the door, pressing down the lock button, ‘Lock the doors!’
Everyone grabbed at a lock. Then the beating on the roof started. Steve shrank from the faces pressed against the window. There was a red smear on the glass. Lipstick? Blood?
Steve reached up and touched his long Mexican moustache. Long sideburns too. He must look just like Tom McGuinness in the semi-darkness. Then he looked at the trembling Alfred. Little pointed beard. Long black hair. Manfred Mann.
‘Fuck me … they think we’re the group …’
The car was rocking violently from side to side.
Brian peered up through the windscreen.
‘They think he’s Mike d’Abo.’
‘We’ll be fucking killed!’ shouted Nick.
Then they saw blue uniforms. A helmeted face appeared and a fist hammered at Brian’s window, ‘Drive to the stage door, you prats!’
Brian edged slowly forward. The drumming on the roof was deafening. They got to the stage door. There were police between them and the door, an inspector was signalling them to lift the door locks.
‘Only on the wall side!’ yelled Nick.
The stage door was open. Brian opened the driver’s door. A policeman shouted. ‘Car keys!’
Brian pulled them out of the ignition and handed them over.
‘Run!’ shouted the policeman.
Rob scrambled out, then Nick, finally Steve. He felt a hand push his back hard and ran for the lighted door.
Inside! The door was slammed behind them. Pounding outside. Shit. What now? He looked at Nick, who shook his head warningly.
‘This way …’ it was a police woman. Young. Quite pretty. Nice smile. They followed her along a corridor. She stopped, ‘Um, an autograph? You wouldn’t mind …? Manfred …?’
‘Alfred …’ said Alfred slowly.
‘That’s his real name,’ put in Steve, ‘He’s a bit shocked … use your stage name, Alfred …’
Alfred turned dull uncomprehending eyes on him.
‘Manfred … Alfred,’ said Steve.
A light dawned. He took her pen and scribbled Manfred Man on her notepad.
‘Isn’t it double n?’ she said.
Alfred took the pen and added an n. Manfred Mann.
‘He always does that, his little joke,’ said Steve, taking the pen and forging Tom McGuinness on the pad with a confident flourish.
‘And the singer!’ she said.
Brian had his mouth open. Her radio crackled and she turned away.
‘Come on Mike,’ said Steve.
‘Mike? Who’s Mike? I thought it was Paul Jones …’ he hissed.
‘He left … don’t you read NME?’ hissed Steve back, ‘Mike d’Abo.’
‘Shit. Yes. Forgot.’
The crackling had stopped. ‘Pretty Flamingo’s my favourite song of all time,’ she said.
Brian forced a smile, ‘What’s your name?’
‘Wendy,’ she simpered.
Brian took the pen, ‘To Wendy, the Prettiest Flamingo there ever was in blue, all my love, Mike.’
Steve flinched. Way too much. But she was flushed bright red and smiling.
‘I’m pink underneath,’ she giggled.
‘I bet you are,’ said Brian smarmily.
‘All pink,’ she said.
Rob grabbed Steve’s arm, ‘I don’t know anything about pop groups. Who am I supposed to be?’
‘No one,’ said Steve, ‘Just the drummer. She won’t want your scrawl.’
WPC Wendy beckoned, ‘The dressing room’s this way … oh, you know, of course … I’ll go and get your road manager. He’s on the stage …’
She scurried off to the left.
‘Quick!’ said Steve, ‘Through this door …’
The door sign read TO THE BALLROOM.
They got through at high speed.
‘Into the crowd,’ said Nick, ‘don’t hang around here.’
‘They burrowed their way into the middle of the standing multitudes, all gazing at the stage.
‘Shit! We didn’t even have to pay!’ said Steve.
‘I was banking on taking some local scrubber in!’ moaned Nick.
‘Sod it, you get to see the group for nothing,’ Steve replied.
‘No one asked for my autograph,’ added Nick.
‘She didn’t know who you were.’
‘Fair enough. Nor did I.’
They broke up for safety. Alfred and Brian went one way. Rob stood where he was, and Nick and Steve moved back. Steve looked at his watch.
‘Hello, Steven …’
He turned round.
‘Cecilia Hoskins? Remember? We hitch-hiked together last term?’
He certainly did. The raven hair, the scarlet full lips. She looked incredible.
‘On your own?’
She nodded and smiled.
‘Do you know what happened to us just now …’ he started.
‘Yes. We nearly missed the bus,’ said Nick, glaring at him, ‘That’s all that happened.’
Her brow was furrowed, ‘That’s not much of an anecdote …’
‘The group’s a bit late,’ she said, ‘I wonder why?’
Steve wriggled his way out of Nick’s glare and started chatting to Cecilia. Both of them had the Manfred Mann EP with With God On Our Side and while he thought Just Like A Woman was their best track, she liked If You Gotta Go.
‘If you gotta go, go now
or else you’ve got to stay all night …, she warbled, and added, ‘That’s so sexy …’
Shit. Was she fluttering her eyelids at him? He’d always fancied her. Time flew by. Then he heard the slow stamping on the floor.
‘Why are we waiting …?’ the chorus started.
A guy was pushing his way forward. Steve recognized him. Phil, from the Entertainments Committee.
Phil stopped, ‘Not any more. They’re in at last. It’s really weird. The group came over from the hotel … they’d gone back for a shit and a shower after the soundcheck …and the gates to the car park were locked. They couldn’t get in. The police were going on about the group already being here. And they’re pissed off too.’
‘You know, they’re used to loads of screaming girls outside the stage door. Absolutely no one tonight.’
‘It seems some slimy bastards were pretending to be them …’
‘I tell you what, if their roadies get hold of them they’ll beat the shit out of them.’
Manfred Mann were filing onto the stage to huge cheers. Steve knew his urge to tell Cecilia the story was irresistible.
‘5-4-3-2-1 …’ they started. Fantastic. He suddenly realized he was holding her hand. A warm glow suffused him.
A tap on his arm. He turned. Brian.
‘Steve …’ then Brian looked past him, ‘Oh … Cecilia …’
‘Don’t you talk to me …’
‘Look, I know you’re upset but …’
‘Well, no one would ever know it was …’
‘That poem was foul. Filthy!’
‘But you see, it’s poetic …’
Steve looked from one to the other. Brian turned to go.
‘Um, Steve, the reason I came over was …’
‘How am I going to get my car keys back from the police?’