‘One week, two grand.’ (a chapter in the life of Itchy Teeth)
‘You never know,’ Xav said, ‘He might just say, ‘It’s a shame things didn’t work out, and I wish you guys the best of luck in whatever you do next. And I’ll be willing to help you out in any way I can in the future.’’ The grim smile we shared meant that we knew that scenario was unlikely. As we stood on the ascending escalator from Southgate underground station, the icy February wind blasted down on our faces. My stomach was churning, I couldn’t stop yawning, and every muscle in my body was tensing with anxiety. I was desperate to get this awful meeting over, but at the same time wanted the escalator never to arrive.
Over the hump at the top and onto the station floor. There he was. He wore a black, thick leather jacket with some American sports writing on it. We walked through the Oyster barriers and he greeted us, rubbing his hands together, ‘It’s cold. Shall we go Costa?’ His demeanour was friendly and warm, like a caring uncle. But we saw through that facade now. That was the purpose of this visit.
‘Damien, I have to say this immediately, and I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.’ Xav said as the three of us walked out into the bright, Saturday mid-morning sun. ‘We’ve had an amazing time over the last three years being managed by you, and we thank you for all the opportunities you’ve given us. But since we still haven’t made any money or released a record, we’d like to move on and to go our own way.’ Damien stopped. We were about 5 feet away from the Southgate underground entrance, and in the next quarter of an hour we advanced no further. He averted his eyes away from ours, and smiled — a mocking, psychopathic smile of someone about to show the true side of their nature. Xav and I waited for his response. After a gap of a few seconds he turned back to us and said simply,
‘That’s fine. One week. Two grand.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means you’ve got one week to pay me two grand for wasting my fucking time!’ I became completely oblivious to the world around us and consumed by blind panic, barely able to speak. And when I did open my mouth I said something like,
‘Why? Please, it doesn’t have to be like this. We’re sorry for how things have gone…’ But Damien cut me off as I spoke, eyes fixed on Xav, as if my voice had been swallowed up by the wind. For the rest of the confrontation Damien didn’t pay me the courtesy of eye contact or personal address. He now displayed the underlying hatred towards me that I had suspected he had been hiding for some time. Although hard to swallow, the feeling was mutual. Over the past few months I had started tentatively trying to question the empty promises he compulsively made to keep us keen. On those occasions when I had called his bluff we witnessed a small taster of what was hiding underneath his bumbling eccentric exterior. He would bark questions about me in front of me to the other band members — ‘What did he just say?’, enraged that a young anonymous musician had dared question his authority — an authority stemming from roughly 20 years at the top of the music industry, and the following 20 years spent telling stories about it and smoking an ounce of weed a day.
‘I knew this was going to happen. I wrote it down.’ Damien continued over me. ‘And you’ve got one week to give me two grand. I don’t care how you get it. Ask your parents. But if you don’t, I know where you live, and I’ll be sending people round to get it off you.’
‘But Damien,’ Xav said, ‘Our parents don’t have anything like that money spare. And we honestly don’t believe we owe you anything. We don’t have any contract together. You took us on under a friendly agreement and you insisted we didn’t need to sign anything formal. You had just as much to make out of this as we did. And since neither of us have made anything out of the career so far, Charlie and I have decided with the guys that it’s our right to move on.’
‘Haven’t made any money? What the fuck are you talking about?’, Damien replied, voice raised, fists clenched, being backed into a corner. Knowing his lack of legal standing, he was like a wounded Rotweiler. Deep down he knew he wasn’t able to inflict any real injury on us, but he was determined to scare us to the extent that we might yield to his insane demands. ‘I’ve wasted all this time on you losers to be treated like this. I need that two grand for the meals I’ve taken you out for, for Silverstone, for having to go to shitty pubs and watch him jumping around like a cunt’, he said nodding in my direction without looking at me, ‘and for the money I gave Glenn for the recording.’ Neither of us knew what to do or say. After a brief pause he continued. ‘I’ve had to sit and watch you waste every opportunity I’ve given you. Letting you have control in the studio was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in the business. You thought you were Steely Dan. And with the Americana bullshit, and him with the piano,’ nodding to me again. ‘And don’t think you can use any of the songs we did together. None of the Glenn album or any of the songs with Danny and Mark.’
‘That’s fine, we won’t’, said Xav. I sensed a change of tack in our strategy. There was no point trying to argue our side. The reasoning and facts weren’t making their way through the marajuana-disintigrated mush that used to function as a mind. Now all there was behind those silvery rimmed glasses were eyes that showed bitter resentment and paranoia. As his perfectly white hair blew about in the wind, I envisioned a chaotic mess beneath it. It was like standing in front of an angry bull in a red jump suit trying to reason with it. In the end, the only solution was to try and get out of there as quickly as possible.
Damien chuckled to himself. Beneath the sinister mob-boss act he was trying to portray, Xav and I could see that he was nothing more than a frightened old man trying to save face. But as the violent wind squalled around the bright white street-paving, knocking about crisp packets and empty cans, neither of us were feeling quite spiritual enough to show sympathy for the man. ‘You’ve just made the biggest mistake of your lives’, he said.
‘Ok,’ we said, resigned.
Damien continued, smiling, ‘You’re never going to make it Xav. You know that? You’re never going to make it.’
‘Ok,’ said Xav, ‘That’s fine, thank you. But we’re not paying you the two grand because we don’t owe you anything.’
‘You’ll be giving me the fucking money in one week. You’re lucky, I was going to say 24 hours.’
‘We’re not paying you the money. You have no rights to anything even if we could pay it. It was a chance you took on us to pay for that recording.’ Said Xav.
‘Seven days. Two grand.’
This rebuttal continued back and forth like the broken Itchy Teeth record that never got released under Damien’s supervision.
The rhythm of the encounter gradually started to slow as if to reach its natural conclusion. Although the specific terms had not been agreed upon, one thing was certain: We were free from Damien. But as Xav and I walked back down into the Southgate underground station, the feeling of relief this result should have prompted was overshadowed by a sour taste of disillusionment with the music business and the whole human race.
‘Well’, I said. ‘That couldn’t have gone any worse.’
‘Yeah, right.’ Said Xav. ‘But we’re free man! That was it. We’ve fired Damien!’
‘I know. Having seen that performance I can’t believe we’ve wasted three years of our life with him.’ Xav shook his head. I continued apprehensively, ‘Do you really think he has a leg to stand on with the money?’
‘Not at all.’ Xav said with absolute certainty. ‘But anyway, we’ll check it with Glenn, Karl and everyone we know in the business to make sure we’re safe. But seriously Charlie, this is the time we can celebrate! We’re free from that psychopath!’ But I didn’t feel like celebrating just yet. My whole constitution had taken a battering from the intensity of the event.
Damien’s departure from the Itchy Teeth family brought about the biggest sea-change in our musical lives to date. In the ensuing year the steps we have made to running our own affairs have brought back the joys of being in a band. There’s no denying the fact that being our own bosses is hard work. But ultimately, it has made the project fun, liberating and fulfilling… which is what being in a band is all about, right?