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 Steph Hotel

David and Colin - It Went BOOMDavid Marks lined up a recording studio in Hillbrow that would give us a discount on after hours sessions, so we took it and started recording my album 'Born guilty'. There was some kind of time frame involved, so we were recording almost nightly and developing quite an edgy momentum.

With about twelve tracks put down, we started with the overdubbing of instruments and voices, sometimes working late into the night. There were nights when we tried one time too many for‘ that take’ and I’d be singing into the microphone and listening to another voice track, not knowing which was which. Thankfully, guests would come and go with suitable gifts of rejuvenating substances that stimulated the creative process.

For some reason that escape me now, I was staying at a small hotel in Berea. I had one of their better rooms, overlooking the courtyard and the car park at the back. I would go back there after the session with a tape of the nights recordings and fall asleep listening to the rough mixes. Not being a studio kind of guy and working to such a tight schedule, not to mention the rejuvenating substances, I was sleeping badly and dreaming of large gelatinous ladies wrapped in Kling wrap, which put me off my breakfast of soft fried eggs.

One night we stayed on after everyone else had left, to do some mixing and try to locate a chirping sound that had mysteriously crept into one of the recordings. When it looked like Dave was about to conduct a wall to wall search of the studio for a delinquent cricket, I finally confessed, that the chirping sound was in fact, the alarm on my wristwatch.

We locked up and went for coffee at Lucky Luke’s. Being a late night joint, the musicians and actors would congregate there after their disastrous gigs, drink Irish coffees and complain. (Many years later when my hugely pregnant girlfriend demanded the whole bed, I would spent many nights at a window seat of Lucky Luke’s, writing ‘Moonlighter’)

Dave and I got talking about the recordings and only got out of there at about two. I went back to my hotel room flung open the windows and fell into bed.

It wasn’t the gelatinous ladies from my dream that woke me, it was the slapping sound of running footsteps below my window, that had me sitting up. The running suddenly stopped, but I could still hear a low urgent voice talking. I went to the open window and looked out over the dimly lit car park and courtyard. It was an hour before dawn and through the fine mist I could see two cars with their front doors open, standing silently like two giant birds frozen in flight. Then, my attention was drawn to the voice again, coming from directly below me, two floors down. I leaned further out of the window for a better look and saw that there were two figures. As my eyes adjusted I saw that the one figure was crouching, trapped and hiding in the corner of a walled off lane, The other figure, a young cop in uniform, was approaching the entrance to lane cautiously with his gun drawn. He moved nervously making wide sweeps with a weak torch as he searched. He was heading in the right direction and was rapidly reaching a point where, I knew, he would have to see the crouching figure.

Colin Shamley Hat 1980'sKnowing that cops never like to work alone in the inner city, I glanced around the courtyard for the other cop, there wasn’t one. The young cop had been thrown in at the deep end and he was alone. As he came directly below me, I saw that his gun hand was shaking uncontrollably. He hissed curses and threats into the dark recesses around him, trying to flush out his quarry and boost his confidence. The gravel crunched under his feet as he searched and the crouching figure winced with each approaching footstep. Even through the Irish coffees and the exhaustion I could Still feel the adrenaline soaked atmosphere and a growing anger at being an involuntary witness. I thought of causing a diversion by throwing something, but the young policeman was so wired that he would have shot mother Theresa, if she walked out now. He stepped into the lane waving his gun around like a conductor on amphetamines and almost mistook the crouching figure for a pile of rags. He shouted a string of mindless instructions as he directed the torch beam at the dark patch in the corner and the figure moved. He leaped two paces back and fired. The crouching figure lurched with the impact of the nine mm projectile and a metal box with wiring attached fell clattering to the ground. The cop, not over his first shock yet, reacted to the sound with a string of curses, as he dropped his torch and ploughed into a stack of soft drink crates. The figure half stood up to surrender as he had been instructed, leaving a huge pool of crimson life, growing on the floor. The cop finally recovered his footing and looked up, saw the bent figure leaning against the wall and knew (it) he was wounded. With renewed confidence he focused the torch beam leveled the gun, with a steady hand this time and told his victim he was going to kill him. As he walked towards the wounded man, the body slid down the wall into a fetal position. The cop at this point, must have known that he was out of danger and could have arrested his suspect, but he didn’t. He was four paces away when he fired the second shot and the whole body shuddered as if it were tied to an invisible cord.

I heard an alien voice burst out through my mouth screaming, a voice that I didn’t know and a deep nausea swept through me. The young cop, high on the hunt, stepped forward quickly and drop kicked the drooping head of his victim so that it rebounded off the wall. The shots had woken half the building and windows were bursting open and lights were going on all around me. The cop looked up at the faces in the windows and assured them that everything was under his considerable control. Then with renewed confidence yanked the slumping figure to it’s feet instructing him to pick up the tin box that had fallen to the ground. He did as he was instructed and I saw that it was a car radio with the wiring still attached. Pushing the perpetrator from behind with his gun, the cop marched him falling and staggering out of the lane up to the courtyard, leaving a trail of fresh blood as they went. When they reached the police car, the wounded man crumbled in a heap from the loss of blood and rolled over onto his back, still clutching to the wires of the stolen radio. The cop sat in the car trying to call for assistance, but the radio wasn’t working. He got out and called up to the small group of people at one of the windows and asked them to call the police station. They replied by closing the window and turning off the lights.

Connie & Colin Troubadour 1968I shouted that none of the rooms had phones and the reception was closed till eight thirty. The early morning mist had almost cleared and I could see the body lying still on his back, his clothes so saturated with blood, that they clung to him like wet black plastic. His thin black face was tilted to the side and a pink foam was starting to bubble out of his nose and the corners of his mouth. I heard a voice from a dark building on the other side of the courtyard, telling the cop that a car was on the way. I shouted in the direction of the mystery voice, that we needed an ambulance not another policeman. The voice replied that we should let the bastard die and slammed the window. The cop paced up and down while he waited, checking on the body from time to time, as if he couldn’t believe it was there, as if he wished it would disappear. He looked up at the few remaining faces still at the windows and asked, almost conversationally, if anyone had seen what had happened. I told him that I had. He wanted to know what I had seen. I told him I’d seen everything and if he wanted a statement, I could be contacted through reception. Something in my tone must have made him suspicious and uncomfortable but he couldn’t read it and stared up at me for long enough to memorize my face.

A yellow police van swung into the courtyard and two older cops got out. He was so relieved to see them that he ran up to them like a frightened little brother. While he was giving them his story the back doors of the van opened and two black cops got out. One of the older cops pointed the body out to them and they carried it to the van, laid it on the floor and got in beside it. The one cop stayed at the scene with the traumatized rookie while the other one drove the body away in the van. I closed the window, sat down on my bed and tried to focus on just one of the million questions kicking on the inside of my cranium for answers. Not the sterile feel good answers I had accepted just to get me through the day. Not the smart Alec esoteric mumbo jumbo that was used to justify anything and everything. The real answers that make the heart and soul partners in life, not two separate entities competing to survive. Where was my dignity, my integrity, my self respect? How were they stolen from me and who by? I had a need and a hunger that left me with an emptiness so vast I thought I might disappear. I wanted the truth back, I wanted to know what I was feeling. I fell back on the bed exhausted and the thoughts left my mind one by one. While I lay there paralyzed and suspended in nothingness, I felt something moving slowly down the side of my face, I was crying.

I don’t know when I fell asleep, I don’t even know if I slept, but I opened my eyes to a brightness and clarity that astounded me. I sat up in bed looking around the room that was, to say the least, mediocre and it was beautiful!. The brass fittings on the cupboards, the door handles and the towel rails lived with luster. The swirling, whirling, sweeps of the pattern on the bedspread were a feast. My skin radiated a smooth reddish brown hue and my fingers and hands were perfect. All the sounds coming from the street were warm and soothing and mine to keep. I remembered what had happened the night before, but it was just a fact and I was thankful for the truth.

I went into the bathroom, turned on the showered and bathed under a leaking chandelier of crystal droplets. I walked around the room without drying myself and let the drops of water fall where they may. The sound of buckets, brooms and laughing female voice, drifted up to my window and I went over and looked out. They were prattling away while they hosed down the floor of the alley and swept the blood into the gutter.

All at once I understood the catatonic’s paralysis, the schizoid, the psychopath the junkie and the drunk. The loner, the thief and the outcast; The frightened and the angry. I understood, because I was one of them, another creature in the headlights of a bizarre reality, I felt a primal sadness. A sadness for the future and the past and for everyone and everything that breathed this tainted and contaminated air.
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