Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Personal gypsy update

There’s an old saying that if something appears to be too good to be true – it is. During my early music career I was offered the opportunity to play at a wedding in Kinsale where we’d get £20 per head. Now this, in the early seventies, was the equivalent of a full week’s pay for the average industrial worker.  OK, we’d have to play shite material, but we’d hold our noses and persist.

After setting up the gear we strolled around – and the penny dropped with a resounding clang. Oh Jesus! Was this a knacker (traveller/itinerant/ gypsy) wedding?

Quick - check the guest list! An ample sprinkling of Carruthers, Ponsonbys or Pilkington-Gores would be reassuring. On the other hand were I to see… my heart sank and my sphincter dilated as I moved down the tables..... McDonagh, O’Driscoll, Ward, Mongan, Carmody. Worst fears confirmed.

A quick conflab. We could probably flee now, while the going was good. All three of us were driven in almost equal measure by greed and cowardice. Greed won. ‘But we’ll need to get paid in advance’ Peter the bassist suggested.

‘Fine – excellent idea’ I responded, ‘off you go up to nice Mr. Ward and tell him we want to get paid in advance because we think he’s a violent crook’. He declined, deferring to me as the band leader. Eventually it was agreed that all three of us would go to forward. In fact Mr. Ward was a perfect gentleman, and even if he was offended by the implication of what we were doing, he never let on. In fact I felt a bit guilty when he handed us the money, but not guilty enough, of course, to refuse it.

We commenced shortly afterwards, and it all seemed to be going swimmingly. Plenty of people on the floor, good natured bantering, good response to my witticisms on the mike. But after about an hour I noticed Terry (our drummer) removing his false teeth, and storing them carefully in the innards of his kit bag.

This was a worrying development. Although he had been known to remove his teeth say when a particularly energetic drum solo was coming up (to stop them flying out), he always placed them casually beside him, where they grinned at us for the duration of the solo. The fact that he was storing them away now was a source of considerable worry to me, because Terry was many years older than the rest of us, and was a shrewd and experienced observer. Even if he was a drummer.

‘There’s something up here’ I turned to Peter ‘keep your eyes peeled’

The atmosphere had indeed changed and an air of menace was palpable. We played on, but now nobody was dancing. I then got a brainwave. Based on Shakespeare's premise that ‘music soothes the savage breast’ I felt that a relaxed pleasant tune was just what was needed.

Right lads – Travelling Light’ I called out, ‘quickly now, for Chrissake’

‘Got no bags or baggage to slow me down…... no comb or no toothbrush’ !!!!!!!!

My Jesus, what the fuck had I been thinking? They’ll think we were taking the piss out of them, and indeed, I noticed a few sharp looks cast our way. I immediately stopped, holding up my hands and saying: ‘ladies and gentlemen, a special announcement’. Now I had no idea what that announcement would be, all I wanted was to stop singing Travelling fucking Light.

My mouth, which was by now fully disengaged from my brain, was starting some bullshit when there was a loud crash, and two men could be seen wrestling at the far corner of the room. This was obviously the cue for the battle to begin, as suddenly the whole room was engulfed. As chairs, glasses, tables, bodies all flew through the air, we implemented our well practiced riot response routine.

Bass drum turned on its side, amps and speakers laid face down, and guitars buried under anything that could be found. Such incidents were fairly common, and usually broke up after a few minutes, with pride restored all around. The gear safe, we’d usually sit it out, and in fact quite enjoyed the entertainment, providing our yellow hides were safe.

But this was something else,. violence on a level none of us had ever seen before. Punches, of course, kicks, sometimes, but that was largely it for us. Here faces were ripped open with broken bottles and glass, downed combatants were kicked stamped and gouged as they lay on the floor, metal chairs smashed over heads. Fearsome punches thudded into bare flesh . And women were in the middle of it, laying into all and sundry.

We were sickened and terrified. But escape was blocked – the nearest exit was half way down the hall – and none of us were stepping into that melee! However, there was a large window behind the stage, which opened out onto a back alley.

‘Right lads, no arguing now. I’m going out that window, I’ll drive the car up, and ye can pass out the main gear. By that I mean guitars, echo unit and snare drum. We can come back for the rest later’ I raised my hands to forestall any opposition, but there was none. (This manoeuvre also gave me the opportunity to abandon my comrades in the event of their becoming embroiled, but I felt it better not to worry them with this possibility).

Anyway, it worked, and we survived our first exposure to authentic traveller culture, the kind of thing Denise Milani wants us to celebrate.


Anonymous said...

You're a low-life scum Savant!

SAVANT said...

Only now you realised that?

proud redneck said...

GReat story - you shud write a book about these things!

Albeus Ergo Cogito said...

I said it before, and I'll say it rational responses to the truth - ever...
At least this dork didn't label you with the dreaded R word.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the programme on them on RTE last nighyt you'd think they were all uncanonised saints!

Dan Dare said...

Must've been a French window.

Lawful Neutral said...

Fantastic story! I've been mugged by gypsies, but never seen anything so interesting.

Anonymous said...

The supreme irony is that if these maniacs get turned down for a weddding they can sue the hotel.

Anonymous said...


Did you ever find out what the travellers were fighting over?

Ive heard that they fight each other a great deal.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

So isn't this the standard Irish wedding?

Tasha said...

what are Gypsy names in Ireland?
I think also you should write a collection and make some money but dont let the editor take out the good stuff.

SAVANT said...

Anonymous 01.07 - these people fight over the most trivial of things, for instance a horse sale that went wrong years ago.

Also apparently there's bad blood between certain inbred groups.

SAVANT said...

Mild Colonial Boy, not typical. In fact i often think that tinkers perfectly represent the stage Irish image, a la Punch Magazine, violent, red-haired, improvident, crooked. But no, we're not too much like that.

SAVANT said...

Thanks Tasha. The commonest name is knackers, but this is frowned upon by the PC Thought Police. Also know as travellers and itinerants, never as gypsies, which is accurate as they have no connection with them at all.

Anonymous said...

What I wondered was why the gyspies had irish surnames?
shouldnt they have exotic surnames reflecting their hertiage?
Have they intermarried with the real Irish?
ps just found out my great grandfather was born in Ireland. This was kept secret all these years.

SAVANT said...

Tasha - i mentioned somewhere that Irish 'knackers' have no connecrion whatsoever with conventional gypsies. They're 'ordinary' irish who've chosen a debaed lifestyle.

Sorry to hear about your irish ancestry!

Tasha said...

haha very funny- thing is my father would agree with you. he was a lot irish and never had a good word for them!