The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is the timeless story of the quest for pop immortality. When a young Ayrshire band miraculously hits the big time with the smash hit record of 1984, international stardom beckons. That’s despite having a delusional teenage manager propelled by a dark, malign voice in his head . . . Can Max Mojo’s band of talented social misfits repeat the success and pay back the mounting debts accrued from an increasingly agitated cartel of local gangsters? Or will they have to kidnap Boy George and hope for the best? Featuring much-loved characters from The Last Days of Disco, this is an absurdly funny, riotously ambitious and deeply human story of small-town rivalries, music, confused adolescence and, above all, hope, from one of Scotland’s finest new voices.
About the Author
David F. Ross is the author of The Last Days of Disco.
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The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas
By David F. Ross
Orenda BooksCopyright © 2015 David F. Ross
All rights reserved.
7th June 1982
'Eh? ... whit is?' The unexpected whispered sound being made by the bandaged figure in the bed was so faint that Bobby Cassidy wasn't entirely sure he'd heard it at all. He leaned in, carefully though, to avoid dislodging one of a number of tubes that might've stopped Dale Wishart from ever speaking again if he had. 'Dale. Whit did ye say there, pal?' But there was no response. He had been sitting at the side of the unconscious young man's hospital bed for almost fifteen minutes. Bobby assumed his bored imagination had simply made more of the unusual rhythm of the various bleeps and breathing interludes.
Bobby had dropped in to the Intensive Care Unit at Crosshouse Hospital, on the western fringes of Kilmarnock, to see Dale Wishart. He'd first checked that none of Dale's extended lunatic fringe family members were there but that became immaterial as he was no longer in critical care. He'd been moved earlier that morning when tests had determined he had suffered no lasting brain damage. His list of injuries was impressively extensive, mind you: broken ribs, damaged eye socket, fractured clavicle and an eye-wateringly painful-sounding twisted testicle. Two nights prior, the local amateur band Dale fronted had been bottled off stage at the start of a mass brawl that virtually destroyed the Henderson Church Hall. Bobby wasn't a close friend of Dale's, but the two eighteen-year-olds had shared some recent experiences, and they had had a love for the same musical influences.
Dale expressed these inspirations directly through The Vespas, his mod-influenced group; Bobby did so via the medium of mobile disco. His own fledgling DJ-ing vehicle, Heatwave Disco, had supported The Vespas on a few occasions. Last night was one of those occasions, although Bobby had – luckily for him, as it turned out – left the DJ-ing duties to his best friend and disco partner, Joey Miller. But he was here now because he felt a sense of obligation to check in on the battered singer. Dale Wishart had contacted Bobby to ask him to aid the band on what was ostensibly a money-making venture for Dale's gangster father, Washer Wishart. The gig had been dressed up as a charity enterprise and as a result Bobby wasn't going to be getting paid.
Bobby was shocked when he saw Dale, after being redirected and shown into the six-bed general ward on the third floor. The still-unconscious Vespas singer was hooked up to drips and wires as if he was the Six Million Dollar Man getting recharged. Bobby had just visited his own pal, Hamish May, who was suffering from hypothermia on a ward one floor above. Hamish had also been the victim of some mobile disco-related violence, although his fevered story that he had been abducted by smugglers, bundled into a rowing boat and despatched into the sea for Russian sailors to pick up, seemed delusional. That had been bad enough but at least Hamish was on the road to physical – if not mental – recovery.
Dale, on the other hand, looked like he had been run over by one of those daft new American monster trucks with the wheels the size of an Altonhill prefab. He was bare-chested, and the map of cuts, welts and developing yellow bruises that had been forcibly applied to their skin canvas made Bobby wince. Apart from the two perfectly formed black eyes – which were already turning deep purple – Dale's face was pale, but relatively unmarked. With the cream-coloured bandage obscuring his hair, Bobby sniggered at the thought of him looking a bit like Telly Savalas in Kojak; all FBI sunglasses and 'Who loves ya, Boaby?' Dale Wishart was a decent guy. He was one of life's eternal optimists. Too nice at times, Bobby thought. He had none of that 'dae you know who ah am?' bullshit that usually went hand-in-hand with being a local bruiser's son. He actually seemed acutely embarrassed about his family business and despite the many understandable reasons for not doing so, nearly everybody liked him. Apart, it transpired, from his fellow bandmates in The Vespas. It was Dale's group, no doubt, but lately Steven Dent – his pal from early childhood – had been making a play for leadership. It was causing rifts between the two friends, and forcing the two other members into taking sides. Jamie and Andy Ferguson were brothers so they inevitably block-voted in times of dispute. Dale had previously avoided having siblings in the band. It didn't work for The Kinks or The Everly Brothers, he reasoned, and it wasn't really working for The Vespas. The Henderson Church gig had actually been a farewell of sorts and – as a result of the numerous arguments – a split had been acrimoniously agreed prior to the event. The Ferguson brothers were both naturally shy and normally shunned confrontation, so recent band arguments always became a question of which of the two more dominant personalities to side with. On the night of the Henderson Church gig, it was clear to Joey Miller just whose side they were on. Although he hadn't seen it personally, Malky Mackay – Heatwave's minder for the evening – had informed Joey, with some authority, that Dale hadn't been hospitalised as a result of the volatile crowd taking action, but as a direct consequence of his fellow band members taking it. Once Steven Dent's swinging bass had felled Dale, the three of them had battered the fuck out of him, and set his synthesiser on fire. They had then bolted off stage and out of the rear fire door of the church hall before the police had arrived and started 'lifting' everyone left in the hall.
'Musical differences,' said the taciturn Malky of the split, with no detectable sense of irony.
'Their fuckin' arms an' legs will be havin' differences of direction fae their heids once Washer gets a haud ae them,' being Joey's prosaic summary.
* * *
'Whit ye got ther', son?' Bobby turned his head round to see an old toothless man, gurning broadly back at him from the adjacent bed and pointing a shaky finger at Bobby's plastic Safeway bag.
'Lucozade,' said Bobby. 'It aids recovery, apparently ... although it's gonnae have its work cut oot wi' this yin.'
'Gie it tae me then.' Bobby looked at the old man. The jaundiced skin visible on his body was virtually transparent, but his face had the telltale spidery blood vessels radiating out from a bulbous red nose. He had a thin tube coming across both sides of his fragile face, with an outlet going up each nostril. He had another, thicker one leading from under the thin pale-blue bedspread. Bobby watched the cloudy golden fluid it was now carrying work its way down the tube and into the bag that was taped to the metal sides of the hospital bed. The bag looked like it contained about a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale. The old fellow looked like he regularly contained about ten times that amount. Bobby figured he would be about fifty years old, but looked twenty more.
'It's no' booze, ye know?' Bobby told him.
'Ah ken that, son, ah'm no' a bloody eejit,' the old man whispered. Bobby stood up and went to the bottom of Manny's bed. He scanned the clipboard as if looking for a prognosis. He peered at the top of the chart.
'Manny, is it?' he asked.
'Aye, son. Manfred ... but naebody ever calls me that. Stupid bloody name.' Bobby laughed. 'They don't gie me anythin' tae drink in here ... 'cept bloody watter. Ye'd think ah wis a flamin' pot plant.' Manny sighed as much as his shallow breathing would permit. 'Nil by mouth ... whit use is that tae an alkie, eh?'
'Sorry,' said Bobby.
'Dinnae be ... just gie's yer juice!'
'Aye. Aw'right. Here. Ye'll need tae hide it, mind. Or they nurses'll find it.'
'No' worried aboot that, son,' said Manny. 'Ah'll huv that tanked the night.' Bobby laughed again. 'Yer pal'll be fine. Ah heard they doctors aw talkin'. Somebody gie'd him a batterin', and he's no gonnae look like Montgomery Clift ever again ...' Old Manny paused, wheezing at the effort a few sentences had required, '... but ye dinnae need tae worry.' Bobby didn't have the heart to say that Dale was neither a pal, nor that he was particularly worried about his longer-term health. 'Ah've been talkin' tae him since this mornin' ... y'know, tae help him oot the big sleep.'
'Cheers. Ah'm sure he'll huv appreciated that when he comes 'roond,' said Bobby. He looked at his watch.
'They three aul' wummin dinnae say nothin'. It's like they're affrontit tae speak tae a drunk. They shut the centre curtain ower and ah'm left masel. Aul' cows.'
'Ah need tae go, mate,' said Bobby. Hospitals freaked him out and he'd already been in this one about three times as long as he'd intended. 'Hope yir back oan yer feet soon, sir.'
'No' happenin', son. Ah'm no' gettin' oot ae here,' said Manny, with a wry, gumsy smile. 'End ae the line fur me, boy. But you make sure yer pal stays ootae trouble ... just like ah've been tellin' him.'
'See ye, Manny,' said Bobby as he walked away from Dale's bed.
'Naw ye'll no',' replied Manny, lifting a quivering left hand to wave as he did so.
* * *
Bobby needed air. He couldn't understand why the wards always had to be so hot. Did bacteria not fucking shag each other daft and multiply in warm conditions, like Scottish gadgies on holiday in Benidorm? Everybody seemed to be sweating, especially him. Bobby walked down the corridor, under blinking fluorescent lights, alongside flaking paintwork and looking up at numerous gaps in the suspended ceiling tiles where cables and wires hung down. Christ, why the fuck do hospitals have to be so depressing? he wondered.
Noo, at this point in the story, Norma, ah'm only a Voice in the cunt's battered heid. Ah know he can hear me, but he's too fucked up tae really ken whit's goin' on, y'know? He's lyin' there, comatose, an' ah'm bawlin' away inside the wee bastart:
'Wake up, ya fuckin' moron!
Ah'm no' lyin' here any longer. Ah've got a fuckin' destiny tae fulfil ... an' unfortunately for me, ah need your useless cunt ae a body. Immortality's waitin' just doon the next Bruce Springsteen motorway ...
So, move yer fat arse, ya lazy bastart ... or ah'll gie ye another fuckin' kickin' fae the inside.'
Musta worked, though. The daft wee ginger walloper wakes up, ken?CHAPTER 2
20th June 1982
Grant Dale turned up the radio. He still made a regular appointment with the Chart rundown and tried to listen to the whole Top 40 on a Sunday, culminating with the Number One at five minutes to seven. It had been a while since any of his favourite records had actually reached the top of the charts, mind you. The year had started promisingly with the Human League dominating British music with Don't You Want Me. Grant had regularly considered the prospect of a New Romantic threesome with Joanne and Suzanne, while that prick with the lopsided haircut watched. That was the only downside of New Romantic music ... all the guys involved in it looked like posh London fannies. It was a sure-fire route to a direct kicking up around Onthank, if anybody caught you buying the Rimmel out of Boots, that's for sure.
Grant had loved the Kraftwerk record, The Model. He had the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of the song, although at £3.99, the LP was a bit steep. Kraftwerk looked cool, if a bit too cool. Their look – Burton shop dummies meets Special Branch – might also result in a battering, although for totally different reasons.
Another favourite was Japan, although Grant was knowledgeable enough to know that they – like so many of the current crop – were just wannabe David Bowie impersonators. At least Japan's main man was a good-looking bastard, and occasionally played guitar as opposed to beingtotally synthetic. Grant had been growing his hair and had bleached and shaped it into a David Sylvian-type feather cut. Grant's dad, Bob Dale – known universally as Hobnail – had predictably hated it, but since he'd vanished off the reservation of late, that aggravation had gone at least.
In fact, Hobnail's incessant hounding of his son had initially persuaded the boy to move out and start doing some strong-arm work of his own for Fat Franny Duncan, the local loan shark heidcase, and also his father's boss. If there was one way to completely fuck over his old man, it would be joining the Fat Franny fraternity. But in truth, Grant had neither the motivation for it, nor the necessary menace. Threatening to scald pensioners for late payments of a tenner seemed a bit over the top, even for an arsehole like Fat Franny Duncan. Grant was never going to win Mastermind, but he was sharp enough to know where the path followed by his father at the same age would lead, and astute enough to want to take a different one. So, to his worried mother's delight, he had come home. He'd been gone for two weeks – only a day less, in fact, than his father – nevertheless, his prodigal return had seen Senga Dale bring out the best china and nip to the shops for a bit of Silverside while Grant returned to routine, taking a Sunday soak on bath night and listening to the radio.
'... and now, a new Number One, it's the UK's top-selling song ... it's Captain Sensible, with "Happy Talk".'
Fuck it, couldae been worse, thought Grant. Irene Cara was hovering around the top three like the Childcatcher, waiting to brainwash more Kids into joining her sinister cult. That irritating song from Fame was a new entry at Number Four. Grant Dale was convinced he could have done better, given half a chance.
23rd June 1982
'Aye, ah hear whit yer sayin' ... ye're right fuckin' there. How could ah avoid it!'
'Ah'm no' sayin' that. That's no' whit ah meant, man.'
'Stop puttin' fuckin' words in ma mooth. Ye don't ken whit yer askin' here. It's no' gonnae be as easy as you're makin' oot.'
'Naw ... it fuckin' isnae!'
'Well, put it this way, there's nae band as of right noo. There's nae instruments, 'cos they've aw went walkin'. There's nae songs, naemoney, an' frankly, nae inspiration. Ye need aw ae things tae start a band. Ah should ken, ah've been fuckin' tryin' long enough.'
'Aye? Like whit?'
'Max Mojo? Fuck sake, that sounds like that green an' white gadgie that helps weans cross the bastart road!'
'But every cunt'll be pissin' themselves. Jesus Christ, man.'
'Aye. Aye, ah said.'
'Where? That wee office oan John Dickie Street? Where Molly pays the rates?'
'Right. Fuckin' fine. Ah'll dae it after, man. Jist gie us a break, eh? Ma heid's loupin'.'
* * *
Molly Wishart heard her son from the kitchen. She initially assumed that he was speaking to someone on the telephone, but when she leaned in closer to eavesdrop, it was apparent that he wasn't in the hall where the house phone was. Dale Wishart was in the front room of the manse. Molly peered through the gap between door and frame and saw him pacing back and forth. She hadn't heard the front door opening and, although she couldn't see the whole room, she assumed there was no one else in there.
'For God sake, son, it's like Blackpool Illuminations in here! Turn the big light off ... everybody can see in.'
'Whit ... 'cos ah've got wan fuckin' light oan?'
'Hey, watch who yer speakin' tae!' The doctors had told Molly Wishart to anticipate certain mood changes that were often the consequence of a severe concussion, but in the two weeks since he had returned home from hospital, she'd noticed these episodes increasing in both regularity and intensity. Molly had asked the specialist about this and she had booked him in for further neurological tests, but since he appeared to have made a remarkable physical recovery, the NHS urgency seemed to have shifted down a gear.
With biological tests ruling out other forms of psychosis associated with substance abuse or other mental-health conditions, a Pakistani consultant had eventually diagnosed Schizo-affective disorder. But he was non-commital about the Henderson Church beating being the cause. The consultant's colleagues casually suggested indulging in the young man's altered-state fantasy, and recommended acceding to his bizarre demands about his new persona. Molly and Washer were warned about delusions and hallucinations being the classic symptoms of this type of psychosis. Nobody said anything to them about the disorganised and profanity-strewn speech patterns.
In the subsequent days, Dale Wishart officially became Max Mojo via deed poll. When challenged, the individual now known as Max claimed his mum was imagining him talking to himself. He even shamefully hinted that her mental capacity might be called into question in this regard. But his left eye had also started fluttering and twitching uncontrollably when these periods occurred. Molly had convinced herself that with her son's previously carefree attitude on the decline, he was being slowly but surely overtaken by a darker and more malign force.
'Don't talk shite, Mam. That's the fuckin' plot ae The Empire Strikes Back,' he'd said to her. But the swearing in itself was indicative of a significant change. The teenager formerly known as Dale would never have spoken to his mother – or any woman for that matter – in that way. It was a positive trait he'd inherited from his father, who despite faults in other areas had never disrespected women in the manner so stereotypical of the working-class males of his generation.
Excerpted from The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas by David F. Ross. Copyright © 2015 David F. Ross. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
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Table of Contents
The principal players,
01: I HOPE TO GOD YOU'RE NOT AS DUMB AS YOU MAKE OUT,
02: THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS ...,
03: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, LET ME GET WHAT I WANT ...,
04: YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR ARMS AROUND A MEMORY ...,
05: EVERYBODY'S ON TOP OF THE POPS ...,
Epilogue: The Fall ... & Rise,
Post Script: Where are they now?,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the second book in a trilogy .. I haven’t read the first, The Last Days of Disco but I truly don’t believe that reduced my enjoyment of this book. I am a sucker for the 80’s so anything that transports me back to what could be described as a happier time is instantly attractive. This is set in Scotland so be prepared for the associated dialect, luckily I am familiar with it but if you are not allow longer to read and understand it! Totally quirky, brash, vulgar, humorous and nostalgic an awesome mixture for a story. It revolves around a few families .. you may want to familiarise yourself with all the names in ‘The Principle Players’ list at the front, useful to refer back to until you slot each person into place. Basically we follow Max Mojo and his desire to form the teenage band The Miraculous Vespas. He struggles with his mental health and some sections are particularly poignant, however Max infuriated me and endeared himself to me in equal measures. Add in debt, violence, gangsters and dark gritty references .. you get the picture?! The inclusion of Boy George (I used to adore him in his heyday) is a classic edition. The whole vibe is spot on, music, TV, food, films they all get mentioned and instantly spark recognition. I had totally forgotten the absolute hype of appearing on Top of the Pops. Almost innocent days of perfection before all the modern social media that is taken for granted so much these days. For all the wannabe musicians/band members this shows how tough the whole scene can be and the elation if the pinacle is reached. Don’t expect pure, sickly sweet characters .. these are all hard and realistic of the area and the time. I really enjoyed it and will add the previous book to my wishlist in the hope of reading it before the next instalment. Thanks to the author and Karen at Orenda Books for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest opinion.