She was dying for a mad night out, she said, so where was I going to take her? I know, I said. If they’re playing tonight, we’ll go and see Society Rocks, the most electrifying covers band I know. Their Facebook page said they were playing in Exmouth, 40 miles away. Society Rocks are a stubbornly local outfit, and I was surprised that they were venturing so far afield. I booked a B&B off Exmouth seafront and off we went.
The friendly receptionist at the Dolphin asked us what our plans were for the evening. ‘You haven’t come to see Jake Wood making a special appearance at the Fever Boutique nightclub, have you?’ she said. ‘Jake Wood?’ I said. She looked sorry for me. ‘Max Branning?’ she said. ‘The car dealer in EastEnders?’ No, we said, we’d come to see Society Rocks at the Park Hotel. She looked even more sorry for us. ‘The Park? There won’t be many in there tonight, unless the band has a following. Have they a following?’ ‘I’m afraid we’re it,’ I said. She gave us a tip. ‘The Fever Boutique is near the Park. If it’s dead at the Park, you can go and see Jake Wood.’ Here she looked left and right to see if anyone was listening, then hissed devoutly, ‘And he’s staying here!’
We took a cab to the Park hotel. As I leaned over to pay the driver, I could hear the band in full cry. What I expected to see when I walked through the door was a raucous rough house, four deep at the bar, with beer flying. What I saw was the band giving it everything they had to a huge and all but empty function room. The singer was pogo-ing manically and belting out the lyrics to ‘White Riot’ by the Clash. Scattered about at tables in front of him were four, seated, nonplussed couples, as distant from the band and as far flung from each other as the Leeward Islands. There wasn’t a single wagging toe. They could have been waiting for a bus. A half a dozen old men perched on stools at the bar had their backs conspicuously turned. The barman served me two juggernaut gins and winced his apologies for the racket.
We took our drinks to the front row of empty tables and wondered whether to stand or sit. It seemed impolite to sit. But maybe Exmouth is a such a cool place, and the standard of rock’n’roll there so high, that sitting down is how they take their pub bands. So we sat down in the eye of a rock’n’roll hurricane with nothing between us and the band except ten feet of empty dance floor. An audience outnumbering the five-piece band by three had aroused a contrarian spirit in the band, and they were playing as if their lives depended on it. My friend is a rock chick and she couldn’t believe what she was seeing, nor the circumstances in which she was seeing it. She preferred their cover to the original, she yelled. ‘Society Rocks, darling,’ I yelled back.
The wall of sound collapsed. The number had finished. Deathly silence. Someone at the back of the room clapped half-heartedly or perhaps ironically. The singer said he was sorry if they’d woken someone up, and he hoped they were going to like this next one. Then the aural hurricane was restored with ‘Pretty Vacant’ by the Sex Pistols. Well, I for one didn’t intend sitting that one out. It would have been like sitting down to watch the closing of the gate at Hougoumont farmhouse. We tipped our gins down our throats and took to the dance floor, where we were immediately joined by an unkempt, elderly man whose principal dance move was to raise his arms and feel his way across the ceiling with his fingertips.
The band played for a solid hour and we got pissed and danced like dervishes in front of them. We had our mad night. Then we rounded it off by stopping on the way back to see Jake Wood make his special guest appearance at the Fever Boutique. The nightclub was packed; everyone in it was under 25 and off their faces. Just after midnight an unsmiling Jake Wood appeared in the DJ’s perspex pulpit. He was given a microphone. ‘If you’re a beautiful woman,’ he said, ‘come up and make yourself known.’ He gave the microphone back. That was his appearance. I went over, reached up, offered him my right hand and said, ‘See you at breakfast, old son.’ Perhaps he couldn’t hear me. Perhaps he was in character. But he registered only my outstretched hand.
He wasn’t at breakfast, anyway. He’d checked out early. They’d given him a banana to eat on the road, said the waitress.