Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Bad Timing and a Ferocious Thirst

Timing is everything, they say. You may have the goods and the right intentions but, if you’re not in the right place at the right time, forget about it!

Take the case of Major Thinkers – surely one of the most unfortunate band names when it came to critical reviews. However, our song “Avenue B Is The Place To Be” was once all the rage south of14th Street.” Whatever about Lower Manhattan, Belfast circa 1981 was most definitely not the place to be.

On the strength of this anthem we were invited by an Irish record company to tour the country. And so Pierce Turner, Thomas Hamlin, Peter Collins and I hit the green fields of Ireland.

The dates in the South went off riotously enough; it was when we hit the North of Ireland that our timing and luck ran out. Bobby Sands went on hunger strike.

I’m not quite sure what we were thinking but we had already reached Belfast when we discovered that “because of mounting tension” our date was “postponed until further notice.” Derry and Omagh followed suit. But Gloria Hunningford still resolved to host us on her widely watched television show.

Belfast was dark and rainy, and the tension was, indeed, rife. The streets were deserted but the city was not without color, what with each neighborhood bedecked with either Union Jacks or Tricolors.

We taped a performance of our song and both Gloria and her technical crew felt Major Thinkers “were on the edgy side.” How right they were, for a revolution was mounting within the band - our bass player, Peter, had grown tired of Turner and Kirwan forever doing the interviews.

I, somewhat unselfishly, relinquished my chat with the beautiful Gloria - for the chance of doing some sightseeing, aka drinking.

Thus did Mr. Hamlin and I hit the streets. We both had ferocious thirsts and, in an effort to quench them, soon ran out of pounds sterling. However, a number of pubs were accommodating and changed our few dollars – albeit at exorbitant rates. And then we were down to Irish punts and thus did our misfortune begin.

After various bartenders had diplomatically notified us that they could not change “Irish money,” we way cool New Yorkers decided on stealth tactics. At this point we had entered a small pub, well away from the city center. I humbly requested two pints of Guinness.

The barman, a rather charmless individual, was far from friendly; nonetheless, he put time and care into pulling two magnificent Imperials whereupon I produced a nice crisp Ten Punt note.

At the sight of this he curled his thin lips in a most alarming manner before stating in a flat East Belfast accent, “We don’t accept Free State money in here.”

The affable hum of conversation stopped dead and I should have cut my losses but a raging thirst knows no bounds for I foolishly inquired, “So what are you going to do with the two pints?”

He never took his eyes off me as he slowly tipped the two gorgeous Imperials into the sink. The silence now was deafening as I backed towards the door and into the unflappable Mr. Hamlin who had missed this exchange while trying to make sense of some political posters – not of the Republican persuasion.

That may well have been one of the longest walks of my life back to the television studios. Belfast was a maze of speed bumps so every car that passed us had to slow down, leaving us with lurid visions of being kidnapped by the UVF for the heinous crime of attempting to purchase pints of plain with Fenian money.

But we survived and life went on. Bobby Sands MP would die some months later, round about the time Major Thinkers scored an unlikely hit with “Avenue B Is The Place To Be.”

Thirty years have passed and Belfast is a pleasant bustling city despite some sectarian undercurrents. Major Thinkers, alas, are barely a memory.

Many things have changed but bad timing and a ferocious thirst can still get you in a lot of trouble.

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