You could almost be mistaken for thinking that spring’s upon us. The sun’s out at last. It’s been a long, dark winter. We need the sunshine again to bring the good times back into our lives, let us understand what matters.
I’m strolling through the park, along the path, hands in my pea coat pockets, shoulders hunched. In spite of the sun, it’s a dirty sort of day, wind blowing, grass muddy, trees bare. I’m dreaming of the warmer days, the ones when you can come here in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt, laze on the grass and listen to your tunes on your headphones, and be transported off somewhere else.
I push the collar of my coat up and decide to spend a few minutes taking in the view. It might not be much of a view compared with others but it’s the best we have. There’s a bench free and I sit down, cross my legs and look out over the grass, at the skeletons of trees, sitting in front of the row of terraced houses that are a backdrop to the bottom part of town. The new estate’s not far away, where the money is, where house parties are held, when the students are home for the summer and the wine flows all night.
I smile at the thought and take a packet out of my pocket, remove a filter tip, and put it in my mouth. I light it with my disposable lighter, cup my hand to keep out of the wind, and inhale, as I have on a thousand walks down the street at the bottom, on the way home from The Crown or somewhere else.
I need to get away. That’s what I’m thinking as well. I have to move on from the small-town blues, get a blast of different moods and different vibes, and different ways of viewing the world. As I’ve said before, the next stage has to be the capital or somewhere similar. There was another letter from my old college buddy Miles this morning, with his SW5 postcode emblazoned on the envelope for all to see, exhorting me again to join him for a few days. I need to do it, get a change of scene and absorb some London into my bones, get the mojo working properly. It’s something else to do when the days get warmer and the nights long. But, once again, it’s the same old story. I’ll need to save some money. That’s not going to be easy with everything that’s going on round town.
Everyone was telling me all about it last night, sitting in the corner of The Crown, hardly being able to hear over the sound of the jukebox in the corner. They were shouting in my ear, telling me about some band or other who’s on this weekend upstairs in The Railway or that little wine bar or one of the other watering holes round town. I didn’t catch where it was. They’ll tell me again. Then there was something about a party somewhere. To be fair, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. I had other things on my mind.
I look out over the park again and flick my filter tip away. It flies through the air and crash lands on the path, exploding into a million pieces with sparks shooting off. I reach inside my pocket and take out my copy of ‘Noise’, a fanzine that arrived on my doormat this morning. It’s committed to covering the same garage rock vibes that I’ll be listening to through my headphones, lying on the grass here in a few months, and tonight on my stereo when I get home.
Tracking down print like that has become a passion since I was about sixteen, along with a certain late-night radio show that I first hooked into about the same time. I blame my lack of academic prowess jointly in two directions – late-night rock and roll radio and my discovery of The Crown. With those two influences, I didn’t stand a chance of achieving what the careers advisors and teachers called “my full potential”, whatever that was.
I open up the fanzine and look at the cover, a girl in a pork-pie hat looking out at me. I want to read the article about the band she’s in but the wind’s started blowing more strongly than it was before. The sun’s gone in and it’s feeling colder. I can’t hold the pages to let me read. If I want to peruse it properly, there’s only one option, head into town and find somewhere inside.
I need to get moving anyway. I enjoy a walk in the park on a day like this in late winter but you can’t stay here forever. I fold up the fanzine again and slip it into my pocket. Then I get up, push my collar up and put my hands back in my pockets and walk towards the gate, my desert boots avoiding any mud that may have made its way onto the path. I walk through, making way for a young woman with a pram, and head onto the terraced street at the top.
I walk by the second-hand record shop on the corner, The Funky Groove Emporium, as it’s known, that I pass every time I come into town. I need to pay it a visit and promise myself I’ll do just that on my way home. But, for now, the smell of coffee beckons. A hedonist doleite needs his caffeine at this time of the day. So that’s where I’m heading. It’ll give me a chance to read my magazine as well, which is what I’m wanting to do right now.
I turn onto the high street. Then I spot him. There’s someone who catches my eye. On the corner, next to the market, there’s a man with a saxophone. He’s starting to play, quietly for now. People are walking by him, taking no notice. But I stop and watch. He blows into the sax, softly. Then he gets louder. I recognise the tune but I can’t remember where from. It’s a slow, haunting melody. One that gets into my heart. Starts to lift me.
The man must be in his sixties. He stands there, with a black beret and white beard. Wearing a leather jacket and jeans. His big hands are moving across the sax, touching a note here, another there. The softer tones start to go. He’s moved into a more upbeat jazz feel. He blows his sax hard, blasting out the notes. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck as I watch. It’s Cry Me A River. It has to be.
Julie London’s classic gets the paces. This boy doesn’t care where he is. He could be in Birdland. But he’s not, he’s standing on the corner of this street. He’s giving all he’s got. It’s soul reaching. I watch as the man blasts his sax and I want to be there with him but I can’t play. It doesn’t matter. I’ve seen what he can do and will come to see him again. I turn and walk away through the late afternoon. Time has moved on now. I’ve missed my coffee break. I have things to do, meet up with everyone and spend the night around town.
It's crisp in the air and there’s expectation ahead. I walk past the record shop, the other places I go to. Time is running out. I hear the sax behind me. Time to get ready for the next few hours. Here we go.