The Bluebottle Boys: Chapter 13, Part 1 — Birmingham, 26 March 1962: Showdown at the Cemetery [Section 1 of 5]

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[Other than the featured picture of one of Warstone Lane Cemetery’s side gates, the pix are of The Diskery, still around, last I heard, still selling vinyl and still one of the best record shops in the world.]

Going to The Diskery was Ian’s idea.

I confess I hadn’t thought of what excuse we’d give our parents for being out on a Monday after dark – but going there after school’s untimely closing was a flash of genius. The Diskery wasn’t just a record shop; it was the record shop – the musical Mecca of the West Midlands.

Officially, we’d remain there, other than to get supper, staying safe and out of the cold. In reality, we’d browse for half an hour or so, buy a few singles, ask the store to keep them safe until we returned, pick them up on the way back, then claim we were at The Diskery all the while, became enthralled with the music, and just lost track of time.

We no sooner walked in and closed the door than I was knocked for six. The shop was playing the same record I’d heard during my 37 seconds of clarity with Luxy the night before.

I asked a clerk what record was playing, and that I’d heard a portion of it on Radio Luxembourg last night. He told me it was “It’s Mashed Potato Time” by DeeDee Sharp, and asked if I wanted a copy. I immediately said yes, as I slowly took in the homey clutter among the seemingly endless racks, giving it the appearance, in places, of the lair of a wizard, or at least of a sage. The clerk brought me back to the current time zone when he agreed to hold a copy for me at the cash register. I went looking for Ian, finding him among the racks.

That spring, in what was still an unusual move for American rock stars, due, in no small part, to limits and restrictions imposed by the British Musicians’ Union on American acts touring the UK, Desmond Shaddowe and Linda Faye were touring England, billing themselves (at least in Elvis’ absence) as “The King & Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll,” and Ian wanted a single from at least one of them. The same helpful clerk suggested Ian get “(Give Me) Shiny Pretty Talk,” Linda Faye’s current hit. It sounded good to Ian, and we were both on the way up to the register to pay for our new finds when yet another record came over the speakers, flooring me as much as “Mashed Potato Time,” one that I could (and, within a few years, would) perform myself, not simply admire as a listener. I had to ask what it was, and learned it was a brand new release, “Hey Little Girl” by Del Shannon. And another record was set aside and purchased.

It was just past four when we left The Diskery; Ian and I decided now was as good a time as any to gulp down whatever gruesome brew Bethany had cooked up.

Though my right hand had mostly first-degree burns with a few blisters, it still throbbed and shook. Ian held the flask for me as I chugged down its contents. It had a tangy, bitter, herbal quality, and was slimy as an army of slugs. I didn’t gag, so, on balance, I decided it was more appealing than her Christmas potion – but not by much. Ian downed his and, from the look in his eyes, it was a good bet he found it as appealing as I did.

We decided that we needed a “teatime something” to get this horrible taste and slime out of our mouths. Since we’d not get a chance for dinner, we ducked into a fish and chips shop, split an order with a couple cups of hot tea, then hopped on a bus headed for the jewelry district, doubling back to Five Ways, before going north through Ladywood to reach the jewelry district and Warstone Lane.

It was after five when we exited, a block from the main entrance, soon finding an inconspicuous unguarded side gate with an extremely rusty chain across it, holding its two doors together. Both gate and chain were brittle from cold. My hands, protected by gauntlets, grabbed the cold metal of the gate. Though babying my dominant right hand, I still successfully shattered the chain a moment later.


© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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