An hour later and I was sat in The Queens Hotel on Princes Avenue, close to the Adelphi, with Neil Ellis. 'Cheers' I said, passing the drinks over.
Ellis raised his glass and looked at me, still suspicious.
I couldn't help but laugh. 'Don't worry about it. You'll get your story.'
'But I have to go in that shit-hole to get it.'
He had a point. The Adelphi was very much like marmite; you either loved or hated the place. I'd seen countless bands play there over the last twenty years or so, many of them on the insistence of my late wife. Some of them had gone on to become household names but many hadn't.
He'd been upset when I'd told him about the press conference the band were planning to hold tomorrow. Clearly, the local paper hadn't been invited. It was strictly music press and major players only. It was unfair on Neil, as I knew he was a good journalist. Previously, he'd worked for the nationals before heading to Hull for reasons I'd not yet got the bottom of.
Running a private investigation bureau meant I often needed good quality information and we'd built a mutually beneficial relationship. I finished my lager and nodded to Ellis. 'Let's go get you a story.'
Crammed like cattle into the terraced house-turned-music venue, I fought for enough room to reach into my pocket to pay for our drinks. Doors had only been open for thirty minutes, but it was already a sell-out. We had been lucky to get in. News of the gig had spread quickly and with almost 200 people in the small room, the heat and noise was already becoming intolerable.
I passed Ellis his drink and ignored the look I got from him.
'What's the crack?' he shouted across to me. 'You can't drag me in here and not tell me anything?'
I'd spotted John Starkey making his way through the crowd, heading towards the backstage area. I wasn't that surprised to see him. I pointed him out to Ellis. 'The sacked drummer.' 'I then pointed out Mark Harrison, stood on a seat at the side of the room, watching his band set up their equipment. 'Know who he is?' I asked.
Ellis shook his head.
'Former manager of the band. Soon as they got a sniff of the big time, he was out on his ear.'
Ellis shrugged. 'So what? Hardly anything new, is it?'
I agreed and told him the story.
'And that' I said, pointing across the room, 'is Steve Hollins, the band's current manager.'
'I know him by reputation.'
I waved across the room to him. 'I've got your master-tapes' I said, when he had made his way through the crowd.
'You've got them?' he repeated.
'Not physically got them, but I know who has them.'
'Nice one.' He gripped my shoulder and squeezed.
I pointed to the exit. 'We can hear ourselves think if we go outside.'
The door slammed shut behind us, reducing the volume of the music to a low level rumble. We walked across the car-park, careful to avoid the potholes, and stood under the lamp-post close to the street. I heard the door open and shut and saw John Starkey walk over to join us.
'You've sorted our problem, then' said Hollins, smiling at me. I asked him for the fee we'd agreed. He counted it out in £20 notes. It would pay the bills for a couple of weeks.
'I think so.' I indicated to Starkey that he should come no closer. 'It's a shame you had to sack him.'
Hollins shrugged. 'Just business. Nothing personal.' He waved to his former drummer. 'Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in this business. You're a businessman, you understand where I'm coming from. And it's great you've got the masters back for us. I'm really grateful. It'll certainly make the press conference a lot easier. It'll look good having you there and won't do your business any harm, will it?
'I suppose not.'
He lent in closer to me. 'It's a shame John had to go, but I always had my doubts about him, you know? He's not as focused as the rest of the band.'
'I heard the new record wasn't up to scratch.'
Hollins laughed. 'Who told you that?'
I shrugged. 'It's what I heard.'
'I think you'll find people don't want to let the band grow. For sure, the first album was raw and full of energy but it wasn't a true representation of what the band's about. Since we've got them in the studio for the second album, they've grown. The songs are more mature, more reflective; they've got more to write about now. As they've developed, they've needed to improve as musicians, to challenge themselves. Sadly, John didn't really measure up in that department, either.'
'What do the record company think of the record?'
'They're still digesting it.' Hollins nodded at Starkey. 'How did he get the masters?'
I turned and watched Ellis and Mark Harrison walk over to us. 'It wasn't John.'
Hollins looked like he was going to be sick. 'Harrison?'
'He's got motive.' I said. I turned to Ellis. 'Are you getting all of this, Neil?'
He had his notepad open. 'Loud and clear.' He looked up. 'How did he get the master-tapes?'
'He still visits the band's house' I said. 'Even though I bet they were told to be careful, they were probably lying around.'
Hollins interrupted me and pointed aggressively at Harrison. 'Mark's problem is he can't leave them alone. He really should get over it and move on. You weren't good enough for the band, Mark. You're small-time and don't forget it. You haven't got the balls for this job.'
Hollins walked around in small circles, presumably thinking it through. 'At least we'll have the story for the press conference' he said eventually. 'I know you're bitter, Mark, but I'm still shocked by this; really shocked.'
I looked at Harrison. I didn't want to say but it had to be said. 'You're bitter, aren't you, Mark?' I said. 'The band were set for the big time and you thought your mates would value what you'd done and stick by you.' I turned to Hollins. 'I've no doubt you were very persuasive and promised to open doors for the band that Mark could only dream of doing.' I turned back to Harrison and shrugged. 'It's a shitty business, that's for sure.'
I couldn't blame Harrison for being bitter. He had good reason. I assumed he'd downplayed it because he was embarrassed; embarrassed that I thought he was a failure. I waited for Ellis to confirm he had his notes up to date. 'But it wasn't Mark, though, was it, Steve?'
Hollins stared at me, confused. 'You just said it was.'
I shook my head. So far as I could tell, Mark Harrison was a decent guy; probably too decent to cut it in the music industry. Don locating him had proved to be a false lead. I wondered if Harrison and Starkey had cooked up something together, but if felt unlikely. They probably weren't even in Hull that much at the same time. Starkey was clearly messed-up with people worried about him, but if he had been sacked by the band, he would have no reason to be at the gig. That only left one person. 'Did Hollins put you up to it, John? Tell you to play along with plan?'
'I don't know what you're talking about' said Hollins.
Ignoring him, I continued to speak to the drummer. 'He took advantage of you, John. He used you. He asked you to pretend that you'd been kicked out of the band, didn't he? I bet you've been having second thoughts about all of this, haven't you? First of all you had to fuck off your mate when he was doing a decent job for you. He might not be as dynamic as Hollins but he still deserved some respect, didn't he?
You were the only one in the band who stood up for him, I bet.
You probably tried to change their minds, told them that you all owed Mark something. They didn't listen, though, did they? All they were interested in was the fame and money. The moment you stood up for Mark, they marked you down as a loose cannon. Things were different after that, weren't they?'
Starkey couldn't look me in the eye. 'He told me to do it. He said I wasn't as committed as the rest of the band and this was a chance to prove myself. If I agreed to pretend it was me who stole the masters, I'd show I wanted to stay in the band. I just had to disappear for a couple of days.'
'Back to Queens?'
I felt the bundle of £20 notes Hollins had given me. 'No. Back to mine. We'll get some cans and put some proper music on.'
Loading up the cards and I start thinking. I think about casino's, and all that is.
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