I’ve got my headphones on and the music’s blasting round my mind, courtesy of the wonders of Spotify, as I stand in the shop and look at the clothes. I’m listening to a Small Faces show from 1966 in Belgium, newly discovered they’re saying. It’s the earliest record of them live that’s preserved for posterity and it’s on fire with its crashing guitars and deep and hard-edged Hammond organ. What I would give to have been there.
I’m in a second-hand clothes shop in town. I’m getting into all this, digging around vintage stores on Saturday afternoons. You can pick some quality garments up if you search through the rest of the stuff that’s been discarded. You get an eye for it after you’ve done it a while. There isn’t a lot here, I’m afraid, nothing that grabs my eye. Then again, I haven’t looked at the shoes yet.
They’re in a corner, at the back of the shop. I walk over to them and there’s a pair that jumps out at me. They’re battered, old, they’ve certainly seen better days. But there’s something that draws me to them. They’re red, or maybe the correct phrase is burgundy, or even oxblood, from what you see in the advertisements. The correct name is penny loafers. In their prime, they would have been worn by the Faces round town, maybe at the clubs you hear about, The Scene or even The Flamingo perhaps.
I don’t know why it’s those in particular that make me choose them. Maybe it’s the recognition of the past. But choose them I do. I take them off the shelf and sit down at a seat they’ve kindly put next to the shoes. I take off my trainers and pull on the first of the penny loafers and put it on my left foot. It’s a perfect fit. In fact, I almost imagine that I feel it expand a little to fit my size. I smile to myself.
I put on the other and I get the same feeling. Strange, I think to myself. What was I drinking last night? I need to avoid it.
I look at the two penny loafers on my feet and I’m impressed. They look better than they did on the shelf, less battered and worn. It’s almost as if they’ve rejuvenated, given themselves a polish, come alive just for me. I stand up and walk over to the mirror, stand in front, examine them. They look good. They go perfectly with the turn-ups on my Levi's. I’d just need a pair of red socks to go with them. I’ll have to ask the boy behind the counter if they sell them.
I turn round and suddenly something very strange happens. I start to feel a little dizzy. I don’t know why. I stand and steady myself. I sit down again for a moment and let my head clear. Then I stand up again and walk a couple of steps. It happens again. I keep going. The whole shop’s a blur, the faces fading. I walk away from the corner of the shop, into the main part. Only I’m not in the shop anymore. I’m somewhere else.
I start to feel a little disconcerted, scared even. I’m in a fog now, smoke everywhere like the dry ice they have at gigs. I’ve stopped my music. I need to get used to the new feel that’s around me. I look down at my feet. The penny loafers are bright and gleaming. It’s strange how they look like that in the light.
I’m walking down a tunnel now. A dark, narrow wall with white bricks on either side. My hands are in my pockets. There’s music coming at me. It’s from the end of the tunnel ahead of me at first. Then it comes from everywhere. I’m walking at a steady pace. I don’t think I could stop if I tried. Not that I want to. There’s something dragging me forward, pulling me with it. The music playing is a Hammond organ, hitting me with its infectious notes, its driving sound. There’s a guitar, bass, and drums with it but it’s the Hammond that’s the most important.
I can see a light. A light at the end of the tunnel, a thought that makes me smile through the fear that’s gripping me as I walk. The Hammond sound’s getting louder, whirling around in my mind. Blasting through my subconscious. I’m about three-quarters of the way down and I see a door at the end, with a neon light over it. I’m being dragged to that door. The penny loafers are walking. They’re doing it on their own. I haven’t any choice over them. They’re going faster. The Hammond’s deafening. It’s like a chainsaw to my head.
Then I start to lift off the ground. I haven’t any control over it. The penny loafers have grown wings. Proper, golden wings that are starting to beat and move with a beautiful harmony. They take me through the door and I’m in an auditorium and there’s a band on stage. The wings float me to the floor and I stand there, in front of the band, in the crowd, watching. I know where I am. I don’t have to ask. The music is the same as I was listening to through my earphones in the shop. It’s a Small Faces tribute band. It has to be. What else?
They stop for a moment and the pretend Steve Marriott starts to talk to the audience in a kind of mock French, full of a chirpy grin and laughs. The haircuts are as cool as they are in the pictures, the old ones that bring with them a feel for a time and place. And the clothes. These boys have got it.
My head’s spinning for a moment and then it stops and I steady myself. I look at the band as they play their full-on rhythm and blues like there’s no tomorrow. The club’s small and dark and smoky, French filter tips and their unmistakable aroma fill the air. I glance round at the audience. There’s definitely a continental vibe about the place, it’s in the way they stand, the cut of the suits, the cut of the hair, the polo neck tops, and button-down shirts.
There are posters on the wall for the gig. “Small Faces, Twenty Club, 9 Janvier 1966.” Classic vintage. Perfectly preserved.
But why am I here? Why did the shoes grow wings? Why did I walk into a tunnel?
My head’s feeling a little hazy. As much as I’m enjoying this band playing, I need to get some fresh air. I turn and make my way through the crowd and through the door and onto the street. I stop and stare when I get there. The whole feel of the street feels different from how it normally is. It's there in the shape of the cars, the cut of the clothes the few people who are walking along are wearing. It feels different, from another time.
Opposite is a poster, a brand new one. “Masculin Feminin,” it says. “Mars 1966.” It makes my head spin. A brand new poster for Godard’s Masculin Feminin? I didn’t know they were re-releasing it.
After a while, I’m feeling better. I need to get back inside. My feet feel like they’re going to take me. I walk in through the door and the girl in reception looks at me. I think she recognises me. She lets me go anyway. But next to her is a newspaper, I can’t stop myself looking. And what jumps out at me is the French date on it. “9 Janvier 1966”.
I don’t think about it. I go into the auditorium. I find my old spot in front of the stage. I look at the band, the singer giving it everything he’s got, rasping out those hard edged vocals. I tell you something, it looks uncannily like Steve Marriott himself, so much so that I wonder to myself if it really is, in his 1966 pomp with his perfectly crafted haircut and Carnaby Street threads, courtesy of the accounts set up by their management.
I look down at my feet. My shoes are gleaming, perfectly polished, looking handsome.
I feel like a beer. But I know I shouldn’t. Hair of the dog. I turn and head for the bar and the man comes over and I say I’d like a beer and he doesn’t say much, just goes away and brings one back. I reach in my pocket and find some change that I’d forgotten I had. It doesn’t look like my normal pound coins, it’s in foreign currency, old French francs, and cents. How did they get there? I hold them out in the palm of my hand and the barman takes what he needs, nods his head, and says “merci.” He puts a bottle down with “Pelforth” on the side, leaves the bottle top on the bar and it has the same name on it. I put it in my pocket as a souvenir. I’ve not heard of it before. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to France.
I lean against the bar and watch the band. They’re on fire, the Hammond organ giving it the edge. I listen to it as it swirls around, hits hard with its rhythm. A smile crosses my face as I stand there. Then I turn my head. There’s a guy standing next to me and he’s smiling as well, nodding his head. He reminds me of someone, I can’t think who. He’s wearing a slim-fitting suit and has a haircut that looks a little like Jaques Dutronc. When the song finishes, we start talking. He talks to me in French and, though I’ve not studied the language since school, I understand every word he says. He loves the band. He bought their first single What’cha Gonna Do About It which was released recently and plays it non-stop.
“Small Faces,” he says as they start to play the next song, as he puts his hand on my shoulder. “Magnifique.”
They play two more songs. Then it’s over. And then, as I’m standing here, finishing my beer, there’s dry ice coming from the bar. But it doesn’t stop. It keeps coming out, engulfing the bar. No one seems to notice. They’re all standing, laughing and joking. I start to worry in case it’s a fire. But it isn’t. I turn and look at the guy I was talking to. He’s watching me, smiling. I know who he reminds me of. The shop assistant in the second-hand shop where I found the shoes.
Then suddenly, I feel myself floating. I look down at my shoes and they’ve grown wings. The ones they grew before. Before I know it, I’m hovering above the bar and no one’s seen me, except for the guy at the bar who’s grinning. I glance back at the band, who are about to leave the stage, and, from the look of the ages of them, it feels like it’s 1966.
Then I’m in the tunnel again, the one I was in before. Suddenly it goes blank.
I must have been out for a while. My head feels mussy, my mouth’s dry. I wake up slowly and open my eyes. I’m aware of people standing over me. I’m on the floor in the shop.
“Are you all right?” says the boy who was serving. “Looks like you fainted.”
“Yeah, I’m all right,” I say. I look up at him. “I had a wonderful dream.”
“That’s all right mate. I’m sure you did.”
“Tell you what,” I say. “I wouldn’t mind a glass of water.”
I sit down for a moment and get my head together. I look down at the shoes. They’re battered, as they were before. They need polish. As I’m sitting here, a new song comes on out of the shop’s speaker. I recognise it instantly. It’s What’cha Gonna Do About It by Small Faces.
The boy brings the water and I have a drink. I pass him back the empty glass. I feel better. Much better.
I take off the shoes and put on my trainers, which are on the floor where I left them. Then I get up and go to the counter. I wait while customers are served. As I’m standing here, I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s the boy who’s about to serve me. He leans over and whispers in my ear. “Small Faces. Magnifique.”
I look round, startled. He smiles and looks at me knowingly. Then he goes behind the counter.
"Are you having them?” he says.
“Yes,” I say. “I certainly am. Have you got any red socks I can buy as well?”
I feel in my pocket. I need money. But, in there, among the loose change, is something I didn’t know was there. I take it out. It’s a beer bottle top. I look at it and read the brand. It has “Pelforth” on it.
I look at the boy behind the counter.
“Good choice, those shoes,” he says. “They’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
I look at him and smile.
“Of course,” I say. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”