Beyond The Bridge, A Rock & Roll Trilogy follows the lives of British Invasion band Tuppence through the highs and lows of their career.
Beyond The Bridge
Spanning the musically innovative years between 1966 and 1991, the Beyond The Bridge trilogy follows the lives of a group of colorful, diverse characters who are inextricably linked through music and fame, most notably, brilliant British guitar icon, Gordon Hammond.
Weaving her characters’ lives with those of actual legendary personalities, SK Waller takes the reader on a magic carpet ride through the most creative and revolutionary decades the musical world has ever known.
Book One, With A Dream, begins in 1966 in Swinging London at the height of the British Invasion. A young, rather naive Gordon forms a band called Tuppence and, due to his genius as a visionary songwriter and the group’s innovative sound, they skyrocket to the top of the charts. When Gordon meets supermodel Felicity, his entire life changes as he begins to learn that “fame and fortune” and the forfeit it demands, is no respecter of persons.
The young man with the long, graceful hands and serene aura held the audience captive with the sounds he seduced from his guitar. He had a unique style that made the instrument sound like a woman crying in either ecstasy or grief, depending on where your head was at.
Bending the strings, applying a glass bottleneck and manipulating the controls and whammy bar, he turned the blues, a flesh and blood music born of the misery of American slavery, into something ethereal and passionate at the same time. His nearly imperceptible, wordless singing mimicked the line he played. Or perhaps the guitar mimicked his singing. It didn’t matter because the effect he created was magical.
He had a vaguely singsong voice, an unusual quality that sounded as if he smiled as he sang, and his smooth tenor wrapped around the words and phrases that he occasionally finished with a breathy trail-off, a characteristic that he used to put across feelings of intense desire or despair. It was an effect that the girls felt all the way into their wombs and they drew nearer to the stage, swaying along with the music, their eyes fixed on him as if he’d put them under a spell. There wasn’t one of them who didn’t want him, but there was nothing their boyfriends or dates could do about it.
His features were pleasant, with a sensuous mouth and a long, straight nose, but it was his skin—pale, clear, nearly translucent—that gave him a look of delicate, almost androgynous innocence. An unruly storm of brushed curls, his coffee-colored hair partially obscured his face as he played and when he shook it back, sending drops of perspiration in all directions under the lights, the girls caught a breathtaking glimpse of his dark eyes and wished that they were the instrument in his arms, crying beneath his touch.
Sometimes his hands trembled as if he were touching a woman, and if you were a friend, he might tell you that he knew when he played well because he became aroused. But then again, he probably wouldn’t reveal something so personal unless he was pretty high.
His clothes were typical Carnaby Street fashion: skin-tight, wide wale corduroy trousers, a floral button-down shirt with white collar and cuffs, black boots, and a black silk scarf tied around his neck, the knot turned neatly to one side. On his head, pulled down low, he wore a grey felt top hat with two playing cards—the Joker and the Queen of Hearts—stuck into the hatband while a single pheasant feather jutted straight back, quivering as he played.
Although the blues had already gained popularity in England due to innovators like Alexis Korner and Cyril Davis and their circle of devotees that included Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Jimmy Page, the young club-going crowd generally still favored the Mersey sound that had crashed like a tsunami upon London’s music scene.
In 1962, the Beatles had released Love Me Do, the record that sounded the charge for the second British invasion of America. The former colonists on the other side of the Atlantic may have won their revolution for political sovereignty, but it was four young men from Liverpool, armed with musical instruments instead of weapons, who had recaptured them as prisoners of a cultural war almost two-hundred years later.
The young man’s music was different from either Britain’s version of the blues or the Mersey sound, for woven into its traditional structure were influences from South American jazz, Celtic folk, and the Middle East. But there was something intangible at its core. Something otherworldly, multi-dimensional, almost visual, that had struck the usually boisterous club silent as it hung on a collectively held breath.
He understood his guitar. He knew what she was capable of, how to get what he wanted out of her, and how in turn to submit to her so that it seemed that she played him as much as he did her. He’d named the second-hand Stratocaster Roxanne after Rostand’s character in Cyrano de Bergerac because she’d seemed unattainable to him for so long. Every day as he stood gazing at her through the window of the music shop in Fulham Palace Road, his heart beat wildly in his chest and his fingers ached to touch her. He could only imagine what she sounded like, but his instincts told him she was unique. Finally, after months of working, he cashed the checks that he’d tacked to the wall above his bed each payday and brought her home.
Allowing her to reveal herself little by little, he took his time getting to know her. He wondered how she’d gotten the scar that lay along the length of her slender neck and what caustic liquid had spilled on one side of her face, causing the lacquer to peel. Small dents and scratches only slightly marred her beauty and, alone in his room each night after his day’s work was over and the house was quiet, he gently oiled and massaged her wounds, carefully rubbing out her well-earned flaws. He replaced her pickups and tuners and completely rewired her; these changes were necessary before she could submit to his touch. She had to trust him just as he had to trust her, and when he played her at last, he sang softly to her as she offered herself to him, creating a perfect musical union between them.
It was one of those flukes of destiny that the manager of the Marquee Club, a popular night spot in Soho, happened to hear the young guitarist in the Piccadilly Circus tube station, where he played as much for the acoustics as he did for the few shillings that were tossed into his open guitar case by people on their way to someplace else. He had a morning job driving his father’s electrical supply lorry and managing the shop’s accounts, but he spent the rest of the day filling the station with the glimmering sounds that came from his guitar through a small, battery-powered amplifier that he’d built from spare parts.
The manager dropped his card and a five pound note into the case as he walked past. He’d noticed the guitarist a number of times over the past month—enough to recognize that he had real talent.
“Get a band together, lad, and I’ll give you a listen.”
“Have a band,” he said as he continued to play, not missing a lick.
“Get your arses out of your mum’s basement, then, and come see me.”
To play at the Marquee was a dream that few unknown musicians achieved. Everyone from Donovan to Mick Jagger frequented the club, sometimes instigating impromptu jam sessions and trying out new songs with each other to the delight of the crowd. On the weekends the small stage bounced and the dance floor pounded as bands that often included the Who, the Yardbirds, and the Moody Blues performed for a packed house of dancing mods.
It was a relatively quiet Tuesday evening. Although the crowd was of a good size, there were no rock stars in the house that he recognized, just young people he’d mesmerized with his playing, which was all that really mattered to him anyway. He’d never been particularly impressed with celebrity. Being a respected musician was far more important to him than being a personality.
He was only twenty, but he played like he’d been at it forever, while making his technique look like the easiest thing in the world to master. Only his knitted brow and the sweat that dripped from the corkscrew curls around his face gave hint to the intensity of his concentration.
His group was good, but not great, although the drummer, a short statured guy with a thick helmet of blonde Beatle hair, played inventive fills that augmented the guitar while supplying a solid backbeat. He’d drilled holes in his ride cymbal and had placed brads in them, which lent a delicate, shimmering sound behind the guitar. By contrast, the bass player was uninteresting in his style as well as his onstage presence. His lack of energy was almost embarrassing, a stark contrast to the excitement the other two generated between them.
When the first of their two sets were over, the guitarist took off his instrument and stepped down from the stage, heading toward the bar for a well-deserved pint.
“Oi, mate. I’d be dead chuffed to buy you a bevvie.”
He looked down at a rather rough-appearing guy with wavy black hair and eyes that were hidden behind a pair of black, Roy Orbison sunglasses.
“Come ’ed, have a sit-down. What’s your poison, then?”
“Lager and lime, ta.” He pulled out a chair.
“Oh, he’s a polite sort. Mum raised you all proper like, didn’t she?” He held out his hand. “Noel Saunders. And don’t you ever go calling me No-el. I ain’t Father fookin’ Christmas. It’s Noel, like the pole I’ll stick up your hole if I hear any of that bleedin’ First No-el shite.”
“Gordon Hammond,” he said, amused. “And don’t you go calling me any sort of organ.”
Noel chuckled as he offered Gordon a cigarette from its pack, then took one for himself.
“You’re from Liverpool,” Gordon said, striking a match.
“Aye. What’s it to ya, then?”
“Just an observation.”
“Gaw, I get dead tired of you southern prats looking down your fookin’ noses at me as soon as I open me gob.”
“Being scousers isn’t hurting the Beatles a’tall though, is it?”
“Well, they are bigger than Jesus y’know—”
They laughed together.
“What a load of rubbish that whole thing is,” Gordon said. “Can’t believe there are people in the States burning their records.”
“Ah, well. They’re buying them just to burn them, so no harm’s done. It’ll blow over, but, mind you, our Johnny will go and open his gob about something else. Meantime, a bit of money will be banked. Can’t be all bad.”
The waitress came to the table and after they told her what they wanted, Noel turned his attention back to Gordon. “Well, Hammond, your bass fookin’ fooks. He’s dead shitty, like, ain’t he?”
“He’s only filling in whilst I look for someone else. Got him at the last minute. I can’t seem to hang onto a bass player. It’s Willy, my drummer. He’s too good for the bass men who’ve sat in with us. They can’t keep up with his improv. They can’t feel what he’s on about.”
A girl came to the table, smiling down at Gordon. “Your music is fab!” she said. “Would you ever mind signing this?”
She handed him a pen and a beer mat, and he wrote his name across it in a neat, artistic hand. “There ya go, love.”
“So you’re looking for a bass, then. One what’ll stick,” Noel said after the girl left.
“Might be able to land a gig here.”
“Well, you need look no further. I’m your man.”
“Are you, then?”
“I play a friggin’ gear bass, son, and I know what you’re doing with that sound of yours. I got it the minute I came in the door. In fact, it’s the only reason I paid me spends at all.”
Gordon looked him in the eye, but said nothing. His habit of listening more than he spoke in order to suss someone out wasn’t about to be suspended just because he wanted to play the Marquee again. If he was going to form a real group, it would be serious business. No schoolboy antics or personal ego trips to distract from the music. He wanted pros who respected it as much as he did. Noel Saunders came off like a typical scouser, but Gordon’s keen instincts told him that beneath the surliness and the sarcasm was an honest man. Whether or not he could play was an entirely different matter.
“What have you done?” he asked.
“I had a group up in the Pool. Played a couple of years in the clubs. A few gigs ’round Manchester and Birmingham. What have you done, then?”
The tube station came to Gordon’s mind and he laughed as the waitress returned and set their pints on the table.
“Ta, love,” he said to her.
“Fookin’ ’ell, he’s for real,” Noel muttered, resting his arms on the table top and leaning forward.
Slightly irritated, but maintaining his characteristic calm, Gordon sat up a little straighter and blew out a long stream of smoke. “Look, you say you can play, right, so get up at the end of the next set and show me.”
“Just waiting for you to ask, mate.”
“Can you sing?”
“Like a friggin’ songbird.”
Gordon nodded and looked up when two girls came to the table. “I loved your music,” one of them said. “Do you have a record?”
“That’s a drag.”
“He will, soon enough,” Noel said with a dismissive tone. “C’mon, girls. We’re trying to have a conversation ’ere.”
“Sorry,” the taller of the girls said with an indignant tone. “Can I just get you to sign this for me?” She held out a piece of paper and Gordon signed it. “You’re a real gent, unlike this northerner.”
“Oh, shove off,” Noel said.
Perturbed, Gordon took back the paper from the girl. “What’s your name, love?”
Above his signature he added,
with much affection,
“There you go,” he said, handing it back to her.
When the girls were out of earshot, he frowned at Noel. “You know, you have to be nice to them. I probably won’t remember that girl later on, but she’ll never forget me. Or you, for that matter. From now on, you’ll be remembered as ‘that scouser prick at the Marquee.’”
“Well, you can be polite for both of us.”
Later, when Noel took the stage and had strapped on the other bass man’s instrument, Gordon stood away from the microphone giving him a challenging look.
“Boom Boom. You know it, No-el?”
“As well as me own pan handle, ol’ cock.
“Let’s do it then. You sing the lead.” Gordon tapped his foot, counting the beat. “Two, three, four…”
They lit into the song and when Noel began to sing, his energetic, gruff voice made everyone in the club turn and look. Gordon glanced at Willy, whose face had broken into a huge grin. Noel was good. Really good, using low, growling notes on the bass, interesting walking lines and impeccable rhythms, sometimes slapping the strings in syncopation. He read Gordon’s guitar work as if he could read his mind, creating a counterpoint between the two instruments that brought cheers from the audience and dancers to the floor. Gordon betrayed a hint of a smile and seeing it, Noel laughed, shouting away from the mic, “Tried to tell you, Hammond!”
The audience’s response was so enthusiastic that when the song ended, the manager made a rolling gesture with his finger, wordlessly telling Gordon to continue, much to the dismay of the band that stood at the edge of the stage clutching their guitars and shooting angry glares at them.
“Man, that was a gas!” Willy said as they found a table after they came off stage. He turned a chair around backwards, sat down and reached out to shake Noel’s hand. “Name’s Willy Keane.”
“Well, Keane, seems I’m your new bass man. If Mr. Hammond, here, is happy enough with what he heard, that is. Cor. We have an organ and a willy. Reckon that leaves me to be the balls of the group.”
Gordon smiled to himself. If they sounded that good in a cold jam, how much better could they be after some rehearsal time and more familiarity with each other?
“Right. You’re in, then,” he said, and Noel replied with a satisfied grin. “We’ll need a new name, lads. Any ideas?”
It was quiet as they drank their beer, lost in thought.
“The Spring Loaders,” Willy suggested half-heartedly.
“Nah.” Noel finished his pint in a long gulp. “Too bleedin’ poppy. I’m not keen on drug references anyroad. Five years from now it’ll be old news.” He burped into the back of his fingers.
“Well, how about… the Blues Move, then?”
“Oh, sod off. No more ideas from you, ya thick git.”
Being an easygoing sort, Willy just laughed.
“Tuppence,” Gordon said, rolling a copper two-pence coin between his fingers.
“We’re not famous, right? And we don’t come from any bands. In the larger scope of things, we’re small change: Tuppence.”
“It also means vagina, you silly bugger.”
“I know,” Gordon said with a shrug. “I rather fancy the double entendre. I mean, look at Cream.”
Noel thought it over, his eyes narrowing. “You may have something there, mate,” he said after a pause.
Willy played a drum roll on the table top with his fingers. “I’m in for Tuppence. I think we could do a lot with it on LP covers and that. It’s catchy.”
“Right, then,” Gordon said lifting his glass. “To Tuppence.”
“Hold onto your arses, lads,” Noel said with a wink. “We’re going to be very, very famous.”
They butted their glasses together. “Cheers!”