Our drummer struck a deal with Mick, the Irishman who ran the Sydenham Conservative Club. The band needed somewhere to practise and the Conservative Club was looking to put on some entertainment. Mick offered us the use of an empty upstairs room at the club in return for playing the occasional gig. He would provide keys to the room and the front door so that we could leave our gear set up; we would get a set together and let him know when we were ready to play. The Conservative Club only had a few meetings a month at irregular intervals so most of the time we would have the building to ourselves. And it would save us the hassle of carting around our heavy equipment: speaker cabinets, drums, etc. It sounded perfect.
As soon as Mick gave us the keys we shifted our equipment to our new rehearsal room, set up and started to play. It was a good sized room but guitar chords bounced off the walls, the bass rumbled across the bare floorboards and the vocals wallowed indistinctly in the middle of it all. We twiddled the tone knobs and moved the speakers around but it didn’t help much. It was a disappointing start.
Over the next couple of months the band gathered at the Conservative Club roughly once a week to decide what to play, learn the songs and practise performing. The four members of the band had somewhat different tastes in music but, until then, we’d found a compromise readily enough. Somehow, though, selecting suitable material seemed to have become an immensely difficult task. Remembering the notes had got harder, too. And we never could get the sound right. With each visit we became less and less satisfied with our playing and increasingly nervous about fulfilling our end of the bargain by playing for Mick and his fellow Conservative Club members.
To make matters worse we began to suspect there was something slightly fishy going on at the club. The very existence of a Conservative Club in the working class London suburb of Sydenham was a bit odd. That it was run not by a man of wealth or standing but by a typical earthy Irishman was incongruous to say the least. And there was a vague rumour that Mick wasn’t carrying out his responsibilities as manager as upstanding members of the Conservative Party would have liked. It seemed to us that the club was little more than somewhere for Mick and his friends to have a drink outside normal licensing hours.
So we decided to pull out of the deal. Unsure of Mick’s reaction we thought it best to take our equipment home first and make our excuses later. The drummer picked us up in his mini-van, drove us up the road to the club and went to unlock the front door. He was taking a long time to open that door. “Come on, Howard. Don’t mess about” said Lawrence. “I’m not”, he replied, “The key won’t turn.” One by one we all tried the keys – all of the keys in both of the locks. None of them worked. Had Mick changed the locks? Had he stolen our equipment? We didn’t know what to think.
Someone suggested we go round to Mick’s house. Howard was reluctant. “He probably won’t be in”, he said. We pointed out that there wasn’t really any other option. “I don’t know where he lives”, Howard spluttered. “I mean, I know the street, but not the house number”, he explained. “But you went there to pick up the keys”, we countered. “You might remember when we get there.” So he drove us to the end of Mick’s street and we walked along looking at all the houses hoping he would remember. Every house was the same – two-storey semi, bay window, small front garden. The colour of the paintwork was different, there were different flowers in the garden, but those are not things a young man notices.
In desperation we returned to the Conservative Club to try the keys again. They still didn’t open the door. Then, as we stood glumly outside on the pavement, a police car drew up. A young policeman got out, approached us and asked if we had a problem. Half expecting to be arrested for trying to break in to the club we told the policeman our story. “Who did you say runs the club?”, he asked. “Oh, yes, we know him”, said the cop brightly and the tension eased considerably. If Mick was known to the police we had to be the good guys.
“Show me where your equipment is”, said the copper. The Conservative Club was on a corner and there was a short alleyway off the side road that ran along the back of the building. From there we pointed up at the first floor window. On the far side of the alley there was a church where a builder was up a ladder repairing some stonework. The policeman asked the builder if we could borrow his ladder for a minute. The builder gave him a slightly quizzical look, put down his trowel and helped the policeman to move the ladder over to the alley where they positioned it against the window we had pointed out.
The copper climbed the ladder and peered through the sash window. Then he came down and spoke to the builder again. “Have you got something that will unlock that window?”, he said. “Something flat and sturdy.” “Like this?” asked the builder, holding up his trowel. “Yes, that will do nicely”, said the copper. Climbing the ladder again he slipped the trowel between the sashes, flicked the window catch across and raised the lower sash. The policeman climbed through the window and disappeared. A few moments later he popped his head out and called down to us: “Up you come, lads”.
We all climbed into the room and were greatly relieved to see that our instruments and amplifiers were all there just as we had left them. The rehearsal room was locked and, of course, our keys didn’t fit any more. So, our equipment was safe, but how on earth could we get it out of the room? We could probably carry the smaller things back down the ladder but the speaker cabinets weighed a ton; they couldn’t go through the window.
As luck would have it the room had a mortice lock on the door whose tongue engaged into a metal plate screwed to the inside of the door jamb. Pulling a screwdriver from our “repair and maintenance” bag we simply unscrewed the retaining plate, leaving the door free to open. We had access to the landing and the stairs to the hallway.
At the bottom of the stairs there was an internal double door with no lock and then an outer double door to the street. One half of the front door was bolted into the floor and the ceiling; the other half was secured to it with a mortice lock and a Yale lock. Having released the bolts, both halves of the door swung easily on their hinges, the tongues on the locks sliding out from the slots on the other side. The wind blew fresh air in from the street and lifted our spirits.
Quickly we packed up our gear and loaded it into the van. We closed the front door and bolted it from the inside, closed the rehearsal room door and screwed its retaining plate back onto the door jamb, and then climbed back down the ladder. The policeman was the last to leave. He pulled down the window sash leaving the window unlatched and returned the ladder to the builder. He then wished us luck, said goodbye and drove off in the squad car.
Our one remaining worry was that Mick and his cronies would be angry and want to exact some sort of revenge on us. For a while we felt like fugitives from the mob but, as we never heard of Mick again, I guess he had more pressing problems.