I’m not quite sure what this is going to be come. The working title is When The Music Stops and I have around 10,000 words written. One this is certain – it’s not a crime story. Set in 1930s Leeds, with some inspiration from my father’s own life.
Here’s a little bit. I hope – I really do hope – you’ll tell me what you think. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy.
Leeds, March 1935
Bramley swimming baths had been made over. The local pool was closed each winter and covered with layers of heavy boards, so the council could use them for Saturday night dances, with the stage at one end for the musicians. A hand-lettered sign announced The Mark Sharp Sextet.
The bus had been late. The band had been forced to dash from the stop, carrying Billy Dobson’s drums in their cases. He was setting up now, nailing down the bass drum to stop it travelling as he kept the beat. The caretaker started to object, but Mark talked right over him.
‘You’ve got a choice. It’s that or he’ll be all the way out the door by the second number and you’ll have a riot on your hands.’ He shrugged and glanced towards the crowd, pressing around and murmuring, eager for things to begin and get full value for their shilling admission. ‘Up to you.’
‘I suppose,’ the caretaker agreed grudgingly. ‘You lot just make sure to clean up after yourselves later, mind.’
One small victory, Mark thought. Now all he had to do was win over those people who were waiting. They’d expect their money’s worth. If you didn’t give them what they wanted, they wouldn’t come back. Half the country was on the dole, and every penny was tight.
He’d prepared the running order of songs during the afternoon. A good mix of pace. Plenty in there that was familiar, one or two that were new, and a few chances for a quiet smooch on the floor.
‘Why don’t we start with Midnight instead of What Did I tell Ya?’ Will the trumpeter asked quietly. He was older, experienced, someone who’d spent the last five years playing in groups around Leeds. ‘Give them a gentle introduction instead of jumping in.’
Mark shook his head. ‘We’ll stick with this. Look at them, they’re ready. They’ll be dancing in a flash.’
Thirty seconds into the song and he saw he was right. The crowd was moving. Will gave him a nod and a rueful smile.
Give the people what they want, Mark thought. That was the secret.
An hour later, the final notes of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes drifted up towards the ceiling. Dancers who’d been clinging tight to each other parted and began to applaud. Five more seconds and the band had vanished, off to talk to women they’d been eyeing, smoke a cigarette or find a bottle of beer. Mark remained on the piano stool, lighting a cigarette and smiling to himself. Not a bad set. The crowd had loved it. He watched the faces, smiling, happy to be out somewhere. Couples, singles, even a family over by the far wall.
He stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray. His left hand began to move across the keyboard, tracing out the melody in his head. The instrument was an old, battered upright, the ivory keys turned tobacco yellow, but it was loud and in tune. A few vamped chords, then his right hand added some tentative little lines, poking and prodding.
This was the time of the evening he relished. The chance to simply play, letting his mind and his fingers wander. It was always the same; while the others rushed away on the break, he stayed on the bandstand and played. Gave them a little jazz. Doodling, Will called it, with a shake of his head. Mark didn’t care; this was his time. Sometimes, when he hit it just right, people would gather round the piano, caught up in the music. He’d pick them up and carry them along with him. Those were the moments. That was the magic.
Not tonight, though. Two minutes and he stopped. His inspiration was lost in the bustle of conversation all around. For a moment he thought a brunette might be staring his way, but she turned to talk to her friend. He laughed to himself.
If you haven’t read it yet, The Blood Covenant has been out since the end of last year, and I’ve received the best reviews of my career for it. If your library doesn’t have it, ask them to buy a copy. Or you can buy one yourself, if you can afford to.