Tim Dowl­ing

Our wives are in­vited to sing. This was not my idea

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front Contents -

Plus Coco Khan

TThe band I’m in is em­bark­ing on our first tour of Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land, on the off-chance that, un­be­known to us, we are huge there. My wife has de­cided to come along, adding to my sense o of fore­bod­ing.

In Belfast it be­comes clear that we are not huge there: along with the se­lect crowd who have turned up to see us are two men w who have cho­sen to spend 14 quid each to stand at the bar and talk loudly through our set. My wife, sens­ing kin­dred spir­its, be­friends l them af­ter­wards. When I find her, they are telling her – still very t l loudly – that they haven’t been in­side this venue for 20 years. “We came to see Hard Marks,” one says.

“I’m not fa­mil­iar,” my wife says.

“You know Hard Marks,” the other man says. “Very big in the 90s.”

“I’ve never heard of Hard Marks,” she says. “You need to ed­u­cate your wife,” the first man says to me. “She doesn’t know about Hard Marks!”

“Ac­tu­ally,” I say, “I’m not sure that I’ve ever…”

“Hard Marks!” he shouts. “Per­haps they were more of a North­ern Ir­ish thing,” my wife says. We all stare at each other, un­til some­thing oc­curs to me. “He’s say­ing Howard Marks,” I say. “The pot guy?” my wife says.

I go to pack up. From the dress­ing room the only thing I can hear is my wife’s oc­ca­sional shouts of “Hard Marks!” and the laugh­ter of her new loud friends.

In the morn­ing my wife an­nounces that she has lost her wal­let.

“Have you checked your pock­ets?” I say. “Of course I have,” she says. “Don’t be so pa­tro­n­is­ing.” She can­cels her cards, one by one, on the bus to Dublin.

We ar­rive at the Har­bour Bar in Bray at 8.30pm and, although the room is heav­ing, show time re­mains some way off. At 11pm our sup­port act is still on stage. We play un­til 12.45am, ac­com­pa­nied by the reg­u­lar sound of break­ing glass. The bass gui­tar gives out four songs be­fore the end: all in all, a tri­umph.

The next morn­ing the bass player and I are crouched over the guts of his gui­tar by the win­dow of his ho­tel room, glasses on the ends of our noses, with a plas­tic bag tied over the smoke alarm so my sol­der­ing iron won’t set it off.

“I’ve never ac­tu­ally done this,” I say. “I’ve just seen it done.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “Hold still.” We put ev­ery­thing back to­gether and plug the gui­tar in: it works.

“I’ve just per­formed a mir­a­cle,” I say to

my wife, who is still in bed. “A mir­a­cle I’m pre­pared to de­scribe in some de­tail.” “I’m so tired,” she says.

“Once again I feel the need to re­mind you that your pres­ence was by no means com­pul­sory,” I say.

“What’s hap­pen­ing?” she says.

“The van is leav­ing for Roscom­mon in an hour,” I say.

The Roscom­mon stage is small and girt by low fenc­ing, like a top­less gazebo. We do two hours to a room­ful of peo­ple de­ter­mined not to let us in­ter­rupt their con­ver­sa­tions, part­ing com­pany with them, by mu­tual con­sent, some time af­ter mid­night.

In the morn­ing my wife an­nounces she’s found her wal­let, in her pocket. “Don’t tell any­one,” she says.

“Of course not,” I say, tex­ting ev­ery­one. In Gal­way there is a big stage, and time for a proper sound check. At 9pm, the only thing miss­ing is an au­di­ence.

“So,” I say, step­ping up to the mi­cro­phone. “I’m nor­mally ter­ri­ble with names.” This is meant to be a joke, but by the end I will know the first names and home towns of ev­ery­one in the room.

For the fi­nal num­ber of the tour, our wives are in­vited on stage to sing. I can­not over­state the ex­tent to which this was not my idea. My wife shoul­ders me aside, grabs my mi­cro­phone and ad­dresses the au­di­ence, specif­i­cally Sam and Benji from Wash­ing­ton DC.

“Have you seen A Star Is Born?” she says. “No!” shouts Sam.

“You won’t need to af­ter this,” my wife says.

We al­ways said we wanted to play in Ire­land. If noth­ing else, I feel I’ve been thor­oughly tested by the ex­pe­ri­ence, and that I have come through with hard marks

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