Aldo Evans is a desperate man. Fired from his job and deeply in debt, he struggles to balance a broken family life with his passion for music.
Luce Figura is a troubled woman. A rhythmic perfectionist, she is haunted by childhood trauma and scorned by her religiously devout mother.
Ross McArthur is a wiseass. Orphaned as an infant and raised by the state, his interests include game shows, home-grown weed, occasional violence and the bass guitar.
They are Public Alibi. A rock n’ roll band going nowhere fast.
When the sharp-suited, smooth talking producer Gappa Bale offers them a once in a lifetime chance to make their dreams come true, they are caught up in a maelstrom of fame, obsession, music and murder.
Soon, Aldo, Luce and Ross must ask themselves: is it really better to burn out than to fade away?
In this chapter we meet college music lecturer Luce Figura, drummer with Inverclyde rock trio Public Alibi. Luce is taking some of her students through the finer points of doing an AC/DC cover, and trying not to tear her hair out.
She turns to Heather, the bass player. The lanky girl with the bleached blonde dreadlocks and dressed head to toe in strategically ripped black clothing, is tapping away at her smartphone, her bass propped precariously by its neck against the amplifier behind her, a loud fart away from toppling over. Luce forces herself to count to five before speaking. “Heather?”
The girl doesn’t respond, but snorts laughter at something on her phone, seemingly unaware that her lecturer’s talking to her. Luce steps past Gordy to the microphone, takes a deep breath and tries again to get the girl’s attention, this time aided by two hundred watts of amplification.
The girl squeals at the deafening blast from the PA speakers, jumping a near foot straight into the air and dropping her mobile, much to Luce’s gratification. The sound wave also causes her delicately balanced bass to go over, hitting the floor with a loud low-frequency clang, and Luce’s depressed to see the girl ignore her fallen instrument, scrambling instead for her mobile which she picks up and checks carefully for damage as if the device was a newborn baby. Heather shoots Luce a murderous look, her pale, powdered face and heavily kohl darkened eyes making her look like an angry raccoon.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Heather,” Luce says. “Didn’t mean to startle you there. I was just going to ask why you were playing sixteenth notes in a waltz time over the top of a straight four-four back beat.”
Heather looks at her as if he’s speaking in tongues.
“Remember what we talked about? About the bass locking in with the drummer?”
Luce sighs. “The bass and the drums need to play as one,” she tells Heather. Again. “The rhythm section’s the backbone of the band. If you’re doing one thing and the drummer’s doing another, it…”
Heather’s phone interrupts her with a jaunty whistle, and she goes to check it.
“Heather, I swear to Hendrix,” Luce says evenly, “if you don’t put that phone away right now, you’re off the course. I’m not even close to kidding.”
Heather scowls and reluctantly puts the mobile in her pocket. “Sorry,” she mumbles, sounding anything but.
“As I was saying,” Luce continues with saintly levels of patience, “if the bass and drums are doing two different things, it sounds woeful. There’s no groove. No feel. Right?”
Heather nods, not looking at her. Luce reckons that’s about as good a response as she can hope for. She then turns to Lyle, the bespectacled, whippet-thin kid in the Slipknot t-shirt sat behind the drum kit, engrossed at that moment in rooting in his nose with his pinky.
“Pick us a winner there, Lyle,” Luce says.
“Eh?” Lyle responds, wiping a large bogey on his jeans.
“Nevermind. You need to tighten it up and keep it simple. This is AC/DC we’re playing here, not Rush.”
Never hit a student, never hit a student…
Luce opens her mouth to explain who Rush are, but finds that words simply fail her. At twenty-seven, she’s only eight years older than the three harmonically challenged youths, but at that moment, she feels ancient.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says, shaking her head. “Just keep it simple, steady and tight. Hats, kick, snare, cymbal. Don’t worry about throwing in four bar tom fills and triplets. You don’t need them here.”
“But they sound awesome!” Lyle protests, grinning broadly and waving his drumsticks in the air. “Bubbada bubbada bubbada! Yaaas!”
“Yes, yes they do sound awesome,” Lucy agrees, “but you have to play them at the right time, in the right song, and more importantly, know how to play them.”
Lyle looks at her like Luce’s just spat on him. Clearly no one’s critiqued his rhythmic ability so plainly before. Luce wonders what exactly Chris Turner – the department’s other drum tutor who was Lyle’s one-on-one instructor – has been doing in his lessons. “Here, let me show you,” she says.
Lyle trudges out from behind the Pearl four piece and grudgingly hands his sticks to Luce, who takes his seat. “If you’re going to play a triplet fill,” she says, “and again, there’s no triplet fills in this song, but if you’re going to try, take it slow and easy to start with. Kick, right hand on the floor tom, left hand on the snare.” She demonstrates the three stroke fill.
Then again, slightly faster.
“Got it? Kick, left, right. Kick, left, right. Once you’ve got it steady, gradually build up the speed. Like this…” She repeats the triplet fill, again and again, slowly increasing the tempo, faster and faster, until she settles into a perfectly metronomic galloping rhythm.
As she locks in, Luce closes her eyes, and the world goes away. The students. The sour smell of teenage BO in the cramped rehearsal room. The ripped sound insulation padding on the walls. The battered amplifiers. Even Heather’s knocked over bass and Gordy’s out of tune guitar. It all fades. There’s only her and the beat.
She gradually slows it down, the thundering trip hammer roll once more becoming three separate and distinctive strokes, and then she stops. The world comes back into focus.
Luce looks up and sees Lyle, Heather and Gordy looking at her very differently now. They’re actually smiling, that light in their eyes. That spark. Luce feels her frustration lift, and remembers why she got into the job in the first place. For that spark.
“Woah,” Heather says, shaking her head. “That was… woah.”
“Now let’s try it again from the top,” Luce says, stepping out from behind the kit and handing the sticks back to Lyle. “And this time, can we try to not sound like a one man band falling down the stairs? That’d be nice.”
About the Author
Prizewinning author D.A. Watson spent several years working in bars, restaurants and call centres before going back to university with the half-arsed plan of becoming a music teacher. Halfway through his degree at the University of Glasgow, he discovered he was actually better at writing, and unleashed his debut novel, In the Devil’s Name, on an unsuspecting public in the summer of 2012. Plans of a career in education left firmly in the dust, he later gained his masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling.
He has since published two more novels, The Wolves of Langabhat and Cuttin’ Heads, a handful of non-fiction pieces, several short stories including Durty Diana, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016, and the Burns parody Tam O’ Shatner, which in 2017 came runner up in the Dunedin Robert Burns Poetry Competition, and was a competition winner at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival.
He lives with his family in Western Scotland.
“The Christoper Brookmyre of horror. Readers will be very very afraid.”
– Louise Welsh, bestselling author of the Plague Times trilogy
Social Media Links –
*Terms and Conditions –Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.