“If she’s fucked you over, she’s barred for life. No fucking about, serious. She’s gone. Say the word and she’s barred. You’re a fucking good barman and me and Mel want to see you having a good time behind that fucking bar. Dancing and bobbing up and down and stuff. Last week you had a face to the fucking floor, this week too. Is it her?”
I had the power to ban someone from their favourite bar in the town; from everyone’s favourite bar in town come to think about it. A bar with two floors that couldn’t be more different. Downstairs saw the Worthington swigging pensioners, a pool table and a tiny section for karaoke. Upstairs was the place that dreams were played out. It was the sort of club where people left their shit at the door and partied despite it.
Run by two party animals with passion, secrecy and smiles on tap, it was arguably the best rock spot the Valleys has ever seen. Not because it landed the biggest live bands, but simply because the vibe was set by the drinkers and the pace was set by the dancers. And maybe I’m biased, but the bar staff were shit hot too. I worked behind the bar for most of my sixth form years between 2000 and 2002. We’d be clearing rows of seven in under five minutes. Christ I miss that place.
Rock. A music genre epitmosed by a group of sweat-sodden friends waving their middle fingers to the etha whilst screaming “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.” And in Merthyr, the RM’s faithful really fucking meant it too. My first shift was like a baptism in the waters of Mordor. To the left of me were what could only be described as orcs, but friendly ones nonetheless. Fuck knows why they were dressed like that, but they looked cool in that they weren’t trying to look cool. To the right of me was Paul Cremin and his mates. Let me tell you something about that group. Out of the 12 bars I’ve worked in across various borders on this landmass, that group were by far the coolest looking motherfuckers I’ve ever seen. They looked like Curt Cobain had dreamed them up.
A skinhead approached the bar on my first night, he’d been on the sauce for a while, no doubt.
“Do me a favour. Can you tell me what film this is from? ‘Excuse me Ma’am…but I NEED it!!!!!'”
His mates were close by, looking like they were about to burst. It was a weed-infused dare and one I would gladly entertain. I looked quite clean cut back then, white tee and black jeans, no tats, but a bleached mop of curly hair like a lovechild of Eminem and Mr Tumnus. I loved Arnie films though, and knew every line to Total Recall – the film he was quoting. Instead of answering the question, I thought I’d raise the bar.
“Relax, you’ll live longer” I said in a far better Arnie voice than this guy’s. All his Christmases came at once. The group around him began climbing the bar to hug and shake my hand. Rob and Mel the owners saw it unfold and were cracking up. One of the lads ordered five shots, one of which was for me. I was working though, and assumed I couldn’t drink it. I quickly learned that if Rob was on your side, he wanted you to have as good a time as any other fucker in there. If he wasn’t on your side, you were probably a prick. And if you pushed it, God help you.
From behind my bar I could see it all. Every kiss on the sly, every passing of substances, every scrap and dance floor fail. The moshing was brutal, the banter humbling and the camaraderie unrivaled. It was unclean. Not in an aesthetic sense, more in a spiritual one. And I loved it. Carrying a stressful family situation and half a decade of unrequited love, RM’s made sense to me. It might have been the only thing that did.
My mates were always there. Scotty, Claire, Ceri, Lyndsey, Wakey, Rob, Sean and about fifty other names you probably won’t know. But as the barman, for those 7 hours, everyone in there was my mate. (Ok, the occasional cock womble would come to the bar looking to be a prick, but the door staff sorted them out efficiently, unless Rob got hold of them first – and trust me, nobody wanted that.) Unfortunately for those getting launched out of the venue, the only way out was down the stairs they came up. Jesus, the number of people thrown down those stairs was amazing. It became like a badge of honour to some.
Many members of the RM’s crowd could drink obscene amounts and show no signs of drunkenness. I remember watching Crem and Wakeham one night, all night. They hit double digits of doubles within 90 mins. They stayed for another five hours and didn’t slow down. I’m not sure a herd of buffalo could have consumed more. Fucking superb.
Anyway, back to where I started. The girl. She’d asked me out on a date and I’d never been on one. Drinks after my shift was what she suggested. She came to the Thursday night session and looked utterly fucking fabulous. I turned to my older brother, who was also a barman there, and proudly declared that I was having drinks with her after the shift. I’ll always remember his response, the sarcy fucking messenger of doom.
“Looks like sloppy seconds for you Al.”
Like I said, I could see everything from behind the bar. And in the corner, under the elevated sound desk, there she was. Kissing some fucking scragbottle from down the Valley. Where’s that hand going? Ah yes. Down his baggy jeans. Great. Back to Arnie impressions for me then.
Which takes me back to the conversation my boss was having with me. Should she be barred?
“Nah, fuck it. I just need to cheer up. Cheers though Rob, you’re a top fella.”
And cheer up I did. Limp Bizkit just dropped, and that’ll do for me. That’ll do nicely. What you drinking mukka?