A MADE UP TRUE SHORT STORY
Dave Quilty is a builder who loves playing his guitar. The trouble is that no one wants to listen, and he can’t get a gig anywhere. But when, unexpectedly, he finds a captive audience, he has a final chance to prove the doubters wrong. And maybe reveal a hidden side too.
Or read sample chapter below…
The Quilt (sample chapter)
I had arranged to meet Lawyer Pete at the Rose & Crown in Stoke Newington. It was an open mic night, and the Quilt was performing some of his songs. But the sofa had claimed me, and going to a gig on my night off was a busman’sholiday. Plus, a new episode of Midsomer Murders was on the TV. Pete rang me in a state of some distress.
“Where are you, Pointy?”
I made my excuses.
“Oh, my God, you need to hear this.”
I held the receiver away from my ear as piercing feedback screeched down the phone line. It sounded like some kind of satanic ritual involving the torture of several cats. And not in a good way.
“What the hell is that?” I asked once the cacophony had subsided.
“It’s the Quilt! He’s on stage.”
Pete had gone outside of the pub to relay the dark arts that were taking place inside.
“It’s quite incredible. He’s out of tune, can’t sing or play, and the songs are terrible – no rhythm or melody. People are leaving in droves. You must come down and bear witness. I think there may be some genius going on here.”
“Ok, cool, see you in a bit,” I lied, enjoying the comfort of my sofa even more as I stretched out like a sleepy cat.
For the rest of the evening, I ignored Pete’s repeated calls. But the next morning I picked up. Pete was still in shock.
“I have never seen anything like it. The open mic audiences are usually quite forgiving, but he cleared the entire pub. The landlord was not happy.”
“And how was the Quilt?”
“Oblivious! He has a total blind spot to the negative effect his music has on others.”
“Remind me when and where he is next playing so I can avoid!”
“Will do, old boy. I better go. He is coming around for some post-gig analysis. I don’t know what I’m going to say.”
“Don’t encourage him!”
“Will try not to, but he has done so much work for me around the house. He is putting this conservatory in for a pittance.”
Fearing Pete was about to ask me if I could offer the Quilt a gig, I pretended there was phone interference and hung up.
Pete had met the Quilt a few months previously because he had needed a builder. A friend had suggested a friend of theirs called Dave Quilty, otherwise known as ‘the Quilt’ and a friendship was born. But not a lot of building work got done. At lunch, they might sit in Pete’s back garden and open a bottle of red or tuck into some Jamaican rum, and Pete’s conservatory remained in pretty much the same state of disrepair as when the Quilt had arrived.
But Pete and the Quilt had hit it off.
“You must come and meet the Quilt,” Pete would say enthusiastically. “I think he might be a polymath. He is an authority on any subject.”
Indeed, if I ever popped round to Pete’s, the Quilt was sat at the kitchen table with a twinkle in his eyes and a spliff in his hand, ready to engage on any topic. And although he might monopolise the conversation, it was hard not to be impressed by his non-stop leaps and tangents and connections, with his face always smiling to life’s infinite possibilities.
It was hard to pin an age on the Quilt – his long silver hair and goatee beard combined with a stetson and walking stick gave him an old rocker meets wise old cowboy look, but he was somewhat ageless – he could feasibly have been in his 40s, 50s or 60s or possibly even his 70s. One clue was that he had had his heyday during the seventies as Liverpool’s biggest drug-dealer, when, he recalled with misty eyes, he was known as ‘The Acid King’.
But for the Quilt, drugs were not about the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure or oblivion of the self. He was more interested in the various healing properties and altered states of mind that led to self-discovery and insight. His biggest passion, however, was his guitar and playing his songs to anyone who would listen. And if it was your misfortune to get locked in a conversation about guitars, or worse serenaded, it was impossible to escape. To make matters worse, Pete would start pulling a face behind his back, and it would be impossible not to laugh. On several occasions, I had to make my excuses,
“Sorry Dave, I’m bursting for the loo.”
Poor Quilt – he must have thought I had a weak bladder.
But the Quilt was undaunted – if he ever got wind that a pub was running an open mic night, there would be a flash of lightning and, seconds later, the Quilt would be at the saloon door. A stetson tilted forward, eyes narrowed, roll-up hanging from the corner of his mouth, guitar strapped to his back – ready, willing but sadly unable. As he started to play, the pub would slowly empty, and he would not be invited back. The notion that all musicians were welcome to open mic nights had to be amended by landlords around the country with some small print:
OPEN MIC NIGHT
ALL MUSICIANS WELCOME*
*except for the Quilt
He had been run out of town.
But the Quilt was undeterred and wanted more. In an unguarded and maybe drunken moment, Pete promised the Quilt he’d sort him out some shows in return for all the building work he hadn’t done.
And that meant Pete would ring me to see if I could help. Being a live music promoter meant I had access to lots of stages.
“You couldn’t sort the Quilt out a gig, could you? Stick him first on somewhere. He’s done so much work for me around the house, and he’s run out of places that will have him to play. He keeps badgering me. I’ll do your next contract, gratis.”
But there was no way I could offer him a slot. My job was to fill venues, not empty them.
Eventually, the Quilt ran out of places to play and had to make do with strumming his guitar at home. But he consoled himself with the fact that if he couldn’t play live himself, then the next best thing was going to see other bands play.
And the Quilt was the perfect punter. He would go to gigs, stand in the front row, cheer every band after every song, and buy their merchandise. His enthusiasm was pure and childlike, whether on the stage or in the audience. For the Quilt, music was magic.