The Second Set

by nielskunze on April 18, 2016

The New Album (2016)

The New Album (2016)

Prologue: I never told my bandmates this story before…

It must’ve been early in the winter of 2000; I was standing on stage– or rather, that corner of the pub designated, this night only, as “the stage”… tables cleared, speakers stacked… when I serendipitously spied through the milling bodies a particular gentleman’s arrival. Shane and Ian seemed to notice him too as he pushed through the front door.

We’d already finished our first set at the local pub– the pub which I can practically see from my kitchen window at home– so we were pretty comfortable, relaxed… and maybe we were even a bit lackadaisical in that first set. Not to worry, we would rock it out in the second; you could feel it.

It was interesting, in hindsight, that the three of us noticed this particular gentleman’s presence. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Cory and Chris noticed him too. Serendipity can be like that.)

He sat at the bar alone, drank something cool like whisky neat, and somehow seemed to have a whiff of importance about him, a unique fragrance wafting among the common bar-room breezes. He was of average build, middle-aged, and had a big bushy beard. His hair was long, but meticulously bound in a perfect ponytail. So far as I was able to observe, he spoke to no one, except the bartender… and eventually me.

The second set was solid. The local rabble were adequately roused. The band was pleased. And the particular gentleman had remained for the whole set, and had even cracked a smile during the big rock ending, finishing it off.

But now as I was entering the milling crowd and thought to walk nearby him– you know, give him the chance to engage me in conversation– well now, suddenly he was gone. The barstool was vacant… and I thought “Now ain’t that anticlimactic?” I had been quite certain that he was somehow important.

And I’m not even one to go off talking to strangers anyway. I was already stepping out of character because intuition had given me the nod… but I must’ve been mistaken. He’d already taken off. I’d missed him. Weird.

Oh well, I was just going to duck home to enjoy a pee in my own bathroom. (That’s the sort of thing I’d count as a little victory after having become disenchanted with the many inconveniences of band life on the road.)

I zipped up my coat and stepped out the front door… and there he was, waiting for me, or perhaps any one of us, the particular gentleman. He was already handing me his business card:

Phillip Gulliver
J-Swift Records Inc.

“Hello Phillip,” I said, reading the card.

“Phil,” he corrected me, holding his hand out patiently for a shake. I eventually grabbed it, as protocol and awkwardness would dictate. He then raised his eyebrows in askance, and it finally dawned on me that he might reciprocally wish to know my name.

“Niels,” I said, giving the hand one final pump.

And he repeated back “Neil. Pleased to make your acquaintance Neil.”

Everyone seems to think I’m joking about the “s” at the end of my name. It’s really there; it’s not silent; I know my own name; and I don’t have a terrible lisp!

I didn’t bother correcting him.

I figured it was my turn to speak, so I looked at the business card again in my hand. “J-Swift as in Jonathan, and these are Gulliver’s travels,” I presumed.

He smiled very broadly. “You’re the first person in five years to put that together. Always a good omen.”

“I was an English Lit. major,” I explained.


How did he know I hadn’t? “Nope.”

A chill January wind blew between us and we both hitched up our coats around our necks. And he started in.

“I’m gonna be quick.” I liked him already… (…but if he now made reference to his name being Swift, I would have written him off as a 3D-fucking salesman. He didn’t.) “I’m not here to blow flowers up your ass.” When is there anyone…? Sigh. “I like you guys. You’re original. You’ve made an album already; you know the drill. I’d like you to make the next one with me, on my label.” He paused for a response… and I didn’t know where to begin.

It wasn’t too long ago that I’d said in the Banff band-house that the day we sign a record deal is the day I quit the band. I could just barely tolerate the fact that every life decision I made directly affected the lives of my four other bandmates, and every decision they made affected me. And I certainly wasn’t very keen on signing the whole lot over to some moneyed-interest willing to rigidly schedule the next few years of our lives instead.

The irony was killing me. I was being offered a record deal on behalf of the band– me!

Honestly, I’d really been thinking about quitting. The very idea of quitting the band had been weighing heavily on me. Was this a sign? Or was it possible that a record deal could be a good thing?

He was waiting for my response.

“Please forgive me for being rude, but who the fuck are you, Phillip Gulliver?” He knew what I meant. I mean, he could just be some guy with a computer in a root cellar… and a few too many garden tools. Credentials… why do I want to share custody of my children with you and your company? I need some tasty credentials… or I will never even mention this incident to my bandmates. He knew what I meant.

“Starting in the mid-sixties I worked with A&M.” He paused there as if asking if I’d ever heard of A&M. Of course I’ve fucking heard of A&M! Go on… said my smile, sweetly. “I climbed the ranks of A&M, learned the game, made the contacts, and then broke away on my own a couple of years before A&M went defunct in ’99. The studios are state of the art. But distribution in this emerging digital world is what counts… and my team puts records in people’s hands.” I liked how he’d said records and not CDs; it seemed more authentic.

“We– me and the boys– pretty much decided that we’d produce and engineer our own album.” It sounded like I was rejecting him. “We’re kinda stoked to be doing it ourselves.”

He shook his head, still smiling. “You know how many details need looking after to make a decent album? How much work it is… setting it all up from scratch?”

I wasn’t completely wet behind the ears. Even at that time, I had some inkling as to the monumental task looming before us. Now these many years later, I can fully appreciate the full scope of his query. The answer was “Thousands! Thousands of fucking details!” But I didn’t say it out loud at the time. He just plowed ahead anyway.

“I’m not asking anyone to sign anything tonight. I just want you to call me… and we’ll talk. I don’t want to steal your creativity. I want to be your partner. Call me.” He was fixing to go; I had to say something. But I hate commitment so much that I couldn’t even commit to a phone call… sometime in the nebulous future…

“Where are these studios?” I asked, stalling.



“For signed artists we have unbelievable deals with the airlines.” He paused again. “So call me.”

“Or I can give your card to Ian; he’s much more adept with telephones.”

“No,” he said, quite seriously. “I think it should be you.”

I nodded. And that was good enough for him. He turned and walked away.

“Call me, Neil!” he shouted from a dark corner of the parking lot.

“Damn straight I’ll call you Neil,” I muttered. “For that as damn sure ain’t my name!”

I quickly trotted home to pee and “freshen up.” And then I hurried back for the third and final set. It was a typical third set– all fired up to start with, and falling into unspackled drunkenness by the end, performers and audience alike.

There was only one incident of note during that final set, early on. In the “brief” pause between songs, we heard a siren outside rushing by on the highway, and Shane said “Uh-oh, they’re coming to get us.” And everyone sniggered.

None of my bandmates were aware that I had talked to Phil and that he was the president of a record company in Toronto. And I never told them… until now.

After that brief chat in the pub parking lot with Phil, I had a couple of sleepless nights. I laid in bed, fantasizing about being rich and famous, a proper rock star and all. It was great as a fantasy, but it wasn’t me in real life. I wasn’t that guy.

The next week I quit the band.

I handed them my carefully crafted resignation letter at a rare Wednesday afternoon jam in the garage. As they passed it around, I picked up the copy of the local newspaper Shane had brought to the jam hall. I was letting them digest the fact of my leaving at the end of this tour schedule… and then I was going to tell them about my conversation with Phil. I was willing to phone him on their behalf, but I wasn’t going to be any part of the deal– if one could be salvaged. I figured I owed my bandmates at least that much.

But when I turned to the third page, where the weekly RCMP Report was, the name Phillip Gulliver leapt from the page and poked me in the eye! “Toronto businessman… head-on collision… dead at the scene… just north of Fairmont…” Holy shit! That’s what those sirens were on Friday night. Gulliver’s earthly travels had come to a swift end.

And I quickly decided that there was no point now of informing my bandmates of the prospect that had gotten away. It’s not like we could phone up the company and say “Um, yeah… your dead boss thought we were pretty cool… and we were just wondering…”

No. None of us is quite that lame.

And that was that. And here we are…

– NK April 15, 2016, Fairmont Hot Springs, BC, Canada

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