In the couple of years prior to my adventures with The Jesus and Mary Chain, I’d set myself up as booking agent and promoter. This came about after the tour with the Canadian band Ox which I had helped to put together. Yes, that tour had resulted in a number of last-minute cancelled or non-existent gigs, nights spent trying to sleep in mouse-infested squats or on uncomfortable car seats, a run in with the German drug squad, an encounter with a wild boar and a near miss with some Neo-Nazis but I was undaunted. Mark Browning, the man behind that band, had suggested we go into the booking business together. He would hook me up with Canadian bands who wanted to tour the UK and give me access to his top-secret master list of UK venue contacts, and I would book the tours. Thus, Coolbrook Agency was born.
It was fun for a while and for a couple of years I booked tours all round the UK for some very talented Canadian artists: Danny Michel, Lindy Vopnfjord, Veda Hille, The Heavy Blinkers, Bob Kemmis, to name a few. As well as booking their tours I often took on the role of tour manager and driver (this was years before the funeral incident I should add.)
I had also begun helping out Oxford-based musician and impresario Tom MacDonald run a weekly acoustic night at the Turf Tavern in Oxford. They were mostly quite good gigs but on one such night I had a bit of a mishap.
One of my tasks at these shows was setting up the PA and microphones and on this particular night I’d discovered we needed an extra microphone for Sarah, the artist who was performing. Now, given that I had been in contact with Sarah beforehand to discuss her requirements and she hadn’t informed me she needed the extra mic, I would have been perfectly within my rights to tell her I didn’t have any more microphones. But because I am a people-pleaser and it’s deeply ingrained in me that I must never let anyone down ever, I said I would fetch a spare one from home. Even though it meant driving eight miles to the village and back again. And it was a rainy October evening. And it looked like the rain would likely interfere with the gig, which was outdoors in the pub garden. No matter.
It took half an hour to drive home and I likely drove recklessly in order to get back as quickly as possible. I arrived at Kirtlington Park House and hurried inside. My room was on the top floor of the building and was accessed by a slightly temperamental and very slow-moving lift that had been installed in the 1970s. I could have taken the stairs but it would have meant passing through the section of the house that was said to be haunted, something that only slightly bothered me during the day but that I didn’t fancy dealing with at all at night. Particularly when it was clear that nobody was home. So I took the lift. I pressed the lift call button continuously, the way I’d seen people do on TV when they’re trying to escape from some unseen assailant. Because, as everyone knows, pressing the button repeatedly has been scientifically proven to make a lift arrive two-hundred percent faster. A few minutes later the lift arrived and I hopped in and pushed the button for the fifth floor--just the once this time. The lift began the slow ascent to the top floor and when the doors finally opened I scooted out, zipped into my room, located the microphone and dashed back to the lift but it had already begun to descend to the ground floor again: an annoying function it had been programmed with. I pressed the call button a million times and heard the machinery grind painfully as the lift reversed and began to ascend again. It seemed to take forever to arrive but eventually the doors opened and I hopped back in and pressed the button for the ground floor.
As the lift began to descend I suddenly felt very pleased with myself. I had gone the extra mile (or in this case, sixteen miles) to make the gig happen and now everyone would love me and I would be rewarded by Almighty God to whom no good deed goes unnoticed. I was so pleased with myself that I clenched my fist and pumped the air the way Andy Murray does when he’s clawed back the third set from five games down against someone he should have easily defeated in straight sets. It was not a particularly aggressive fist pump but there was enough energy in it to make my lower body shake. And as my lower body shook so did the lift. Which brought it to sudden stop. Not a dramatic stop like in a horror film. The lights didn’t flicker and go out. It was more of a disappointed ‘Please Don’t Do That’ kind of stop. But it had stopped nonetheless.
“Ah,” I said to nobody.
I waited a couple of minutes, keeping totally still, thinking that maybe the lift would forget I was in it and would reset itself and return to the ground floor.
But it didn’t.
I pushed the button for the ground floor. Then I pushed it again and again and again. Nothing happened.
“Ah,” I said again.
Then I discovered I’d left my mobile phone in the car.
Here’s a strange thing. I have a history of anxiety and panic attacks and yet I remained totally calm. That’s the weird thing about panic attacks. They don’t happen at times when panic would be a normal reaction. They happen when you’re buying groceries or eating a meal in a restaurant or smoking too much very strong weed in a cottage in a remote part of North Wales.
“All I need to do,” I told myself, “is stay in the lift until either Bert, old Mr Buxton or Mad Maggie comes home.” Twelve hours tops, I reasoned unconvincingly. But Mad Maggie was in Spain I remembered. Plus she was, as her name implies, mad, and would be utterly useless. Mr Buxton might have been in London and who knew where Bert was.
At which point I immediately began to imagine that I needed to go to the bathroom and wondered how long I could hold it in before I would have to resort to the kind of behaviour associated with tramps and football hooligans. Then I remembered there was a phone in the lift. Hoorah! I knew two phone numbers by heart that I could call. The first was my mother but when I imagined myself calling her--”Hi Mum, it’s Mark. I’m stuck in the lift at Kirtlington Park and I need the toilet,”-- I thought it best not to bother her. The second was Bert. I called Bert. Irritatingly it went to voicemail so I hung up.
Now I was beginning to become a little anxious. There was no way I could go the whole night without having a wee and I couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell Mr Buxton, my octogenarian landlord, that not only had I got stuck in the lift through my own foolishness but also that I had weed in it.
I was on the verge of panicking but out of nowhere I heard an orchestra strike up from the floor below me. Not a real orchestra of course (and not a ghost one either if that’s what you’re thinking) but a recording of one. It sounded like Mozart. Which meant Christopher Buxton was home after all. Now all I had to do was get his attention.
“Mr Buxton!” I shouted. “Can you hear me?”
I listened for any sound that would indicate he was aware of my presence in the house. The music continued.
“Mr Buxton!” I shouted again. “I’m stuck in the lift!”
The music played on.
“Mr Buxton! Help!” I shouted as loud as I could. It didn’t seem at all dignified shouting inside a Grade I listed building.
The music played on and I resigned myself to being in the lift for the foreseeable future. Several long minutes later though I heard the music get louder as a door creaked open somewhere down below.
“Hello?” I shouted. “Mr Buxton? Can you hear me?”
“Hello?” a plummy voice said. “Who’s that?”
“It’s Mark, Mr Buxton,” I shouted, feeling a surge of excitement. “I’m stuck in the lift.”
“Oh dear,” he said. “Goodness me. Well, don’t panic. Give me a moment to reset it.”
“Ok!” I called down. “Thank you!”
I waited a few minutes and then heard a series of clunks and bangs from somewhere down in the bowels of the lift shaft and I prayed that I wasn’t about plummet. The last thing I wanted to do was plummet and crush an elderly plutocrat. He was of a friend of Elizabeth Taylor’s!
Suddenly the lift began to move. I was going down at last. But no sooner had it started than it stopped again.
“Oh dear,” I heard Mr Buxton say again. “That’s not right.”
Then there was silence. I waited for further orders but none came.
“Mr Buxton?” I said eventually.
Mr Buxton’s voice broke the silence and now it was right outside the lift on the other side of the doors, somewhere near my feet. I caught the whiff of eau de toilette.
“I’m opening the doors,” he said.
“Ok,” I said.
The doors opened and I discovered the lift had gone down to the next floor but hadn’t gone all the way down. Mr Buxton was standing six feet below me wearing a cravat and a red velvet dressing gown and a worried expression.
“You’ll have to jump I’m afraid,” he said. “Jump towards me though so you don’t fall down the lift shaft.”
I swallowed hard.
“Ok,” I said.
“Sit on the edge and push yourself off.”
“Ok,” I said again.
I sat with my legs dangling over the edge and tried to get a feel for the best way to propel myself onto the carpeted floor rather than down the lift shaft to a horrible death.
“Right. I’m jumping now,” I said. “Here I come.”
I swung my legs and using my hands to push myself forward I jumped, landing awkwardly in Mr Buxton’s open arms. He patted me on the shoulder.
“Are you all right?” he said without smiling.
“Fine thank you,” I said, trying to regain my composure. “Sorry about that. I’m glad you heard me!”
“What happened?” Mr Buxton looked at me suspiciously.
“I don’t know,” I lied. “I was going down and the lift stopped.”
“Really?” he said, arching an eyebrow. “That’s unusual. Are you sure you didn’t do anything to make it stop?”
“Oh, quite sure,” I said firmly.
“Well…” Mr Buxton said. “I’m just relieved you’re ok.”
“Yes,” I said. “Thank you. And sorry for the inconvenience.”
He bade me a goodnight and wandered off.
I walked downstairs and out into the night where I discovered it had stopped raining. I got into the car and called Tom.
“Sorry Tom,” I said. “I… er… had a bit of a delay.”
“It’s all right,” Tom said. “It’s getting a bit late now so don’t worry about it. Sarah’s gone home anyway. See you next week.”
He hung up.
I sat in the car for a few minutes and made a mental note to take extra microphones the following week.