Nuneaton is an odd place. I’m not sure why we were playing a gig in this small town but for whatever reason, probably the fact that that we’d been offered money and not really checked the details, we were there. The room was filled with the type of audience that attends gigs held and exclusively advertised in the local community centre. The book club, the town committee, the Women's Institute, they were all there. It’s a shame we didn't get the Yoga or Zumba audience, as they can often be a right laugh. Still, it was a gig and despite the lack of dancing and general movement from anyone in the audience, we performed with our usual gusto and didn't hold anything back. Often when facing such a lifeless crowd, we put in extra effort. I’m not sure that this was our own competitive obsession that at least one person must dance in every gig we played or a tactic for making the time pass quicker. Anyway, the gig was utterly mediocre until the grand finale. The Jive Lobster was away on this gig so the usual split jump was missing (another story). Instead we were treated to an acrobatic display from the master himself, The Duke.
On the final tune, The Duke, whilst playing his harmonica, stood triumphantly on a chair. It was a grey plastic chair that we all recognised from our schooldays. The sort of chair which had metal legs and a moulded, stackable plastic seat. The Duke always had to borrow chairs from the venue because he had lost or left behind all of his piano stools and rather than change his lackadaisical ways, he decided that he wouldn't waste any more of his money. He tended to rely on other people to provide the equipment he needed. Even borrowing socks from promoters. In fact, one day he couldn’t find a poor mug to steal or borrow from so he had to actually buy his own socks from a supermarket. Unfortunately all he managed to find were a pair of ladies black opaque pop socks. Yes, he did get a solid ribbing for this, as if you needed to ask!
The stage was a classic proscenium theatre with a polished wooden floor. This floor had not been taken into account in The Duke’s usual quick but single minded thinking. His plan was to launch himself from the chair, over the piano and land feet first on the final drum strike. It was a simple plan but as he stood proud on that chair, the band knew that it was ill conceived. The reality was that as The Duke pushed himself up and forward in a diagonal arch, the cheap plastic chair skidded backwards on the highly polished floor and took away all forward momentum. This left the Duke almost suspended in mid air for a split second. It was a Wile E Coyote running over the edge of a canyon moment. He knew that if he didn't try to alter his trajectory that he would plummet straight onto his stage piano. In what seemed like the bending of the rules of physics, he managed to thrust his torso forward enough to make clearance, but in doing so he left his legs high in the air. At this angle, although he did indeed make it over the piano, he landed face first. His body and legs came a close second and seemed to concertina on top of his head. The sound of his cheek hitting the surface and the deep grunt that left his mouth involuntarily was easily heard over the sound of the final crash from the band. It was a finale so epic that I can replay every moment of it in my mind.
Unusually, the band didn't immediately start laughing. After The Duke’s grunt there was total silence. He was down for a long time. The expected rapturous applause was replaced with a concerned old lady asking:
“Are you alright?”
The Duke eventually stirred and got to his feet. He was however, facing the wrong way and Clancy noticed his eyes rolling about and swears that he had knocked himself unconscious for a brief moment. Finally his eyes rolled back into place and he spun round to the audience with a:
Several audience members gave a polite clap, but most were left frowning and had looks of concern. Nuneaton has never been the same since.