Rock Stars Come to St. Ingbert
The ancient hamlet of St. Ingbert, hidden away unobtrusively in the middle of Germany, was always an easy gig for us when we traveled around Europe playing music during the summers. Charlie, Drew, and I had managed to snag a series of gigs in a chain of Irish pubs set up by the Guinness Corporation all over Germany, and St. Ingbert was home to one of the more pleasant ones. It was set in a shady corner of the central pedestrian zone, the crowds were appreciative, the staff was friendly, the beer was excellent, and we merely had to stagger upstairs to our rooms rather than attempt to drive anywhere at the end of the night.
While playing a gig one cool September evening, we noticed a group of guys coming in the door on the other side of the room, and a collective gasp ran through the room. I glanced over at Charlie, who sat on his stool playing the uilleann pipes and nodded their way. He looked up and squinted, shrugging his shoulders. As the song ended, I noticed people muttering something to each other that I couldn’t make out. I then turned to Drew, on guitar, who also had his eyes fixed on the newcomers. “What’s the deal with these guys?” I asked, away from the microphone.
Drew looked at me with a huge smile, and I could have sworn his glasses steamed up. “It’s Nazareth.”
“Nazareth? What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not Christmas or anything.”
He shook his head. “No, man. Nazareth. You know, the band. Nazareth.”
“I think I’ve heard of them.”
He screwed his face up at me. “You think you’ve heard of them? Come on, man. ‘Love Hurts,’ ‘Hair Of the Dog.’ Nazareth. They’re here. This is incredible.”
“I doubt they’re in Saint Ingobert.” I looked at my setlist. “Whoever they are, we’ve still got a gig to play. Let’s get going. Let’s do ‘Cold Rain.’”
“Oh man, I can’t believe this,” Drew gushed. “I’d know them anywhere. Nazareth, here, seeing us. I can’t . . .”
“Worry about it later, ready? Three, four . . .”
We played through our set, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit more self-conscious than usual. I occasionally looked over at their table to see if I could gauge their reaction. I barely knew of them, but hell, if everybody was right, they were genuine rock stars. Nobody in the audience bothered to pay any attention to us. Rock stars had come to St. Ingbert!
As we neared the end of our set, my self-consciousness ballooned. I could hardly wait to get off the stage and out of earshot of the “stars.” We probably sounded like crap to them, I imagined. But once we got off the stage, they would no doubt feel obliged to come over and introduce themselves. I was mortified, wishing they hadn’t come at all and we could have just had a normal night without the audience murmuring at each other, looking at the stars, and without me feeling every flub and misplaced note or chord slash at my heart like a machete.
As soon as we started to leave the stage, I saw them get up and make their way through the crowd over to us. It seemed we were about to meet the Rock Stars. I could tell by his quivering “Oh man” that Drew was about to pop. Charlie, as always, was oblivious.
One of them, a lean, older guy with a bush of slightly graying hair, patted me on the shoulder. “Good job, lads, grand stuff,” he said in a raspy Scottish accent, his eyes mischievous. “We had no idea they were having music here tonight—we just came for a few jars. This is a bit of luck for us. I’m Dan, by the way.”
“We know who you are, and this is way more than a bit of luck for us,” Drew blurted. “You guys are Nazareth.”
The big guy with a shaved head laughed. “Yeah, so we’ve heard. So you must know I’m Pete. Pete Agnew.”
“Thanks for coming down,” I said uncertainly. “Quite an honor.”
Dan grinned benevolently. “The honor is all ours. Come, let’s have a drink.”
“A good few drinks, I would think,” said the third guy. He looked younger than the others, had long, dark hair, and wore a black leather jacket.
“What brings you to Saint Ingbert?” Drew asked. “Not exactly the middle of the universe here.”
“There’s a lovely recording studio here in town run by a guy we know,” said Dan. “We’re recording our next album here and taking a little holiday. What are you lads doing here? You’re a lot further from home than we are.”
“That’s a long story,” I said. “Years ago, we came here to busk just for fun. Then we started getting gigs, and now we come every year to play.”
“So this is how you spend your summer holidays?” Dan laughed. “I like it.”
Billy leaned closer. “Would you lads mind if we do a couple of numbers during your break? And play your guitars?”
Drew nearly leaped out of his chair. “Are you kidding? That would be awesome! You can play my guitar, no problem. I can’t believe this.”
“Yeah, you can play my guitar, too,” I said, becoming a little bit infected by Drew’s enthusiasm. “It would be great to hear you.”
Pete laughed. “And don’t worry, Charlie. We won’t touch your pipes.”
“Speaking of the pipes,” said Dan with one finger raised. “We’d like to talk to you about that.”
Billy stood up. “After we play. Come on, let’s do it.”
The three of them headed for the stage. I followed them in case they needed help with the sound system. I could hear the audience let out a second communal gasp. Billy grabbed my 12-string, examined my tone settings for a second, then turned them all up all the way. “Sorry, but fuck your tones,” he said with a laugh. “I just turn up everything all the way.”
Moments later, Dan stepped to his microphone. “Hello, everybody. We’re Nazareth.”
While the crowd howled with disbelief and excitement, the three sang the chorus to “The Long Black Veil” in perfect harmony. They sounded fantastic. When the guitars came in, I could tell right away—these guys were the real thing, total pros. They even looked more like rock stars than before, though they had more of a country sound on acoustic instruments.
After “Long Black Veil,” they went right into another song and then another. Not rockers, but folk songs, sung in those pristine harmonies. The crowd pushed to the edge of the stage. I had to admit, they were tight and professional and obviously having a good time. And to be honest, they sounded a lot better than we did.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “This is worth the whole trip over, man,” said Drew. “I can’t believe this. Hanging out with Nazareth. It’s like a dream.”
When at last they left the stage, the audience moved closer to shake their hands and get autographs. The bartenders loaded our table with pints of beer, and the manager—a guy of about twenty-three from Dublin with thinning blond hair and a generally sour expression—glided over, his face flushed. “This has been a brilliant night, lads, just brilliant. Take the rest of the night off, and don’t worry, you’ll be getting your full pay.”
Nazareth sat back at the table and drained their pints while shaking a few last hands. Dan leaned over the table at us. “What I was hoping to ask is if we could borrow your piper for the rest of the night? Charlie, would you mind coming over to the studio and laying down a pipe track on one of our songs? We’ll pay you, of course.”
“Sure, why not?” Charlie was nonplussed.
“Yeah, just like a few seconds during an instrumental break on this song we’ve been working on. Shouldn’t take long. You can all come along, of course.”
Pete was beaming. “Yeah, those pipes will be just what the break needs.” He pumped his elbow and pretended to play the pipes himself while emitting a groaning sound. “Yeah, friggin’ magic!”
Billy looked around at us. “Let’s finish our pints first, lads. Pleasure before business, right?”
As we drank, Drew squeezed my arm. “Oh man, I’m going to piss myself! Now we’re going into the studio with them, and Charlie’s gonna be on their next album! Is this wild or what? Can you believe this? Can you?”
“I guess I’d better.”
Many strange and unexpected things happened during our little European tours, so I didn’t feel quite as blown away as Drew did—it was just the latest in a long string of adventures. In a way. In another way, it was on a different level. After all, Charlie really was recording with Nazareth. Who knows, I thought, it may turn out to be a big hit song, and there’s our Charlie blasting away on his pipes!
We finished up and headed out the door while a few straggling fans smiled at us and waved. “We’re parked in this blue van right out front,” said Dan. “Where are you parked?”
“Just around the corner.”
“All right, we’ll wait for you. Give us a honk when you’re behind us.”
We followed their van through the streets and out into the countryside to a large one-story stone building surrounded by bushes and gardens. We parked in front of a big glass door and followed Nazareth into a nearly bare interior with white wall-to-wall carpeting and a few chairs. Dan led us around a corner and opened two black wooden doors into a darkened recording studio where rock music roared from speakers on the wall. All we could see were little red lights, illuminated dials, and a guy with a short beard smoking a cigarette and leaning over a soundboard glittering with sliders, dials, knobs, and lights.
Pete turned to Drew and me. “That’s Darrell, our drummer, doing the mixing tonight. All right, lads, we’re going to get Charlie all set up in the sound booth right now. Billy, show these other lads where you can have a few beers in the meantime.”
Somehow, a few others from the pub—two young waitresses from Ireland and an inebriated American guy named Jack Brandon who played the same circuit of pubs we did and was visiting on his night off—had managed to join us. Billy showed us into a cozy little room with a refrigerator, three big sofas, some chairs, and a large table. Billy grabbed handfuls of German beers from the fridge and handed them out while we sat down. “Okay,” he said with a big goofy smile. “How about we have a bit of a sing-song, right? I’ve got my guitar right over here.”
He pulled an acoustic guitar from a closet and led us through several songs without a pause between them. He started with “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles, an Irish folk song I didn’t know, “Blowing In the Wind,” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” and some Christmas songs. He and Pete sang with such unselfconscious gusto that I had to laugh. So this is what rock stars are really like, I thought. Maybe the key to their success is simply extreme enthusiasm.
After that, we all sat around talking. Billy told us that he was the new guy in the band and was still learning their songs. “I’m having the best time of my life right now, to be honest. I hope it never ends.”
“Yeah, he’s only about twenty, but he’s good,” said Pete. “Me, I’m over forty now, but you know what?” He turned to me with eyes wide and a huge, toothy smile. “I don’t give a damn! I’m having a good time, and I don’t care what anybody thinks.”
We chatted and sang a few more songs while the beer continued to flow. Jack asked Pete about how Nazareth got their start while Billy played some nice blues guitar. The two waitresses who had joined us were very young and pretty, and I wondered if anyone would make a move on them. Nobody said or did anything inappropriate. Our rock stars were quite well-behaved.
At last, Billy jumped to his feet. “Come on, lads, let’s go see how the recording’s coming along. They should be done by now.”
As we entered the recording studio to the ear-splitting sound of Nazareth’s latest song blasting from the speakers, Billy and Pete started dancing along to the music. Over at the soundboard, Dan was bopping along, clapping his hands and shouting encouragement at Charlie, who we could see through the Plexiglas of an isolated sound booth wailing away on his pipes. Darrell didn’t move.
Billy, Pete, and Dan danced around the room with huge smiles. They obviously loved their own sound, which might be another key to their success.
As the song ended, Dan shouted to Charlie. “All right, brilliant, so let’s do it one more time, only this time with emphasis on the two and four, right? Diddle diddle DAH, diddle diddle DAH, right? Just do that just like that, right? One more time.”
The engineer cued up the tape while Dan turned to us. “It’s a bit of a job getting him to play exactly what we want, but he’s getting there.”
We sat around while Charlie went over and over the short break and Dan gestured at him through the window. Jack Brandon sat next to Darrell and asked him about the various knobs and dials. Billy went to the door. “Come on, you lot. Let’s leave them to it and have a few more beers.”
We followed him back to our assigned room. It was getting very late, and I was wearing down. As we opened one last beer, Dan came in with Charlie. “All right, lads, it’s all done. Let’s have one last beer and get some rest. Thanks, Charlie.”
Everyone was exhausted, and even Drew had had enough. At last, following the directions of the two waitresses from the pub, we drove back. Charlie was at the wheel because the rest of us could still feel the beer sloshing around inside us. We assumed that our big night with the Rock Stars was over.
Not quite. The next morning we staggered down from our sleeping area into the dimly lit pub, where a few customers sat having coffee. One of them was Jack Brandon. “I’ve been waiting for you guys.”
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked.
He gave us an embarrassed smirk. “I left my jacket at the studio last night and wondered if you could give me a ride over. I don’t have a car.”
“Sure, no problem.”
He looked away, and his smirk twisted into something else. “There might be a little bit of a problem.”
“Well, I, ah, had an accident when we were there.”
“What do you mean?”
After a pause, he sighed. “I barfed all over the soundboard.”
“You did what?”
“Yeah, you heard right. I was pissed out of my head and tossed my cookies right there, right on that damned soundboard.”
Drew’s eyes nearly shot out of his head and hit the opposite wall. “Oh my God, that board is worth thousands, Jack. Did they see you do it?”
“Oh yeah, and I gave them about three hundred dollars, too. For cleaning.”
“Oh, this is just great.” I realized that now we’d have to present ourselves to the Rock Stars, and because of Jack, we would not be the most popular Americans in that section of Germany. “Come on, let’s get it over with.”
“I’ve got to go there anyway to get my check,” said Charlie. “I hope they still give it to me.”
We managed to find our way back and knocked on the door. Dan opened it with bloodshot eyes and looked us over. “Oh, right, there you are.” His voice was rough from cigarettes. “Here.”
He let us in the entry, handed Jack his jean jacket and Charlie his check. “Quite a night we had last night, wasn’t it?”
“Man, I’m so sorry about the mixing board,” Jack began. “If you need any more money, or maybe I can come in and clean it again myself.”
Dan shook his head. “It’ll be fine. Not the first time something like this has happened. So look, we’ll see you around, right?”
And that was it.
Events quickly demanded attention to other issues. We had a long, hot drive to our next gig. Charlie and Drew, who had never gotten along, stopped speaking to each other and nearly came to blows one night in Heidelberg. I caught a terrible cold and had to take two nights off, leaving the stage to two guys who by then hated each other. The van broke down. Then it broke down again. By the time our tour finally ended after two tense nights at The Irish Rover Pub in Charlemagne’s former capital of Aachen, nobody was thinking about our night with the rock stars.
Years later, while driving up Interstate 95 in Maryland, a Nazareth song come on the radio. I recognized it immediately and nearly ran off the road. I had to pull over at a gas station to listen—it was the song Charlie played on. During the instrumental break, I leaned closer and could just barely hear, behind the wash of guitars and drums, that diddle-diddle-DAH of Charlie’s pipes. Our night with the Rock Stars had been immortalized forever.
About the Author
C.B. Heinemann has been performing, recording, and touring with rock and Irish music groups for more than 30 years. The Washington Post said his songs are “…among the best coming from either side of the Atlantic,” and Dirty Linen called him a “virtuoso.” His short stories have appeared in Florida English Journal, Berkeley Fiction Review, Chariton Review, Cigale Literary Magazine, Rathalla Review, Howl, Ascent, Lowestoft Chronicle, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Storyteller, One Million Stories Creative Writing Project, The Whistling Fire, Danse Macabre, The Battered Suitcase, Fate, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Cool Traveler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Road & Travel Magazine. His stories have been featured in anthologies published by Florida English Journal, One Million Stories Creative Writing Project, and Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine.