Ricky was holding court at his local, “The Vaults”- a sometime music venue in a rundown part of town. Still a watering hole for the lost, the losers, the cheaters, the misguided and the misunderstood, its walls bore testimony to former glories. Adorning the walls were photographs of those who had once drunk deeply from the wellspring of blues and rock history and had trodden the boards at The Vaults. They could’ve been contenders some of them. The Valiants had almost got a support slot with the Clash; Micky Duke had once been a guitar tech for someone famous, though nobody was quite sure who and then there was Ricky.

In the midst of all of these photographs was one of Ricky in his heyday. Forget the preening, self absorbed bastard offspring of reality TV and the tyranny that is the “X (Chromosome) Factor”. Ricky was the real deal. A swamp rat who had crawled out from the Oil City delta, a worshipper of the twin gods of Marshall and Fender. Although now in his late 50’s he was still possessed with self belief, attitude and a swagger fuelled by cheap vodka and pharmaceuticals.

Keep him well lubricated, and the stories would keep coming, although sometimes it was hard to separate fact from fiction. Tales of when the played on the same bill as the Ruts, of how he’d stepped in at the last minute to play rhythm guitar for the Bleach Boys when the regular guitarist was suddenly mysteriously AWOL, how he’d been working at the Marquee in London, when the Sex Pistols first started to attract some serious attention. Stories that were high on incident, but low on substance and detail.

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Staged…? John Callaway [2017]

Despite all of the gaps, you wanted to believe Ricky as much as he believed it himself. But sometimes he could be his own worst enemy.

It wasn’t absolutely clear what Ricky did for money. The rock and roll lifestyle that he would regale other punters with at the Vaults didn’t seem to offer much in the way of an income. Even back in the day, if such a day had really existed for Ricky, he had always seemed to be something of a nearly man. Sure the odd gig here and there might have brought him a few pounds, but he seemed to have either drunk or smoked the majority of it and as far as anyone could tell his main skill outside of his musicianship was his ability to duck and dive. But Ricky seemed to get by. If all else failed, there was always the local drop-in Centre where he could get a cup of tea or something to eat in return for a helping hand. And of course it was another source of stories when the rock and roll wellspring had run dry.

There was something about Ricky that made people warm to him. Particularly those on the margins, like most of the patrons of the Vaults were. Maybe it was the fact that his story was like holding up a mirror to their own lives. Although Ricky’s self-declared rock credentials set him slightly apart, there was a common bond between them. The days lost to excess, the relationships that had turned toxic, the run-ins with the law and the self destructive behaviour that had turned them into shadows of their former selves, still looking for something, or maybe someone. Perhaps it was simply because he was a familiar face from the Centre, which was a second home to many of those who drank at the Vaults.

Ricky’s manner always changed when he started to talk about the Centre. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and his stories were fuelled by righteous indignation about how those with money and status treated those with little of either. These stories rang truer as he never seemed to have trouble remembering the detail.

Ricky was a trusted volunteer at the Centre with the responsibility of running the clothing store. Donations would come in and they needed to be sorted before they could be given out. Despite the chaos in other parts of Ricky’s life, he was ordered and methodical in his running of the store. His quiet space in a world that was otherwise out of control.

It never ceased to amaze Ricky what some people considered it acceptable to donate. He was all for people bringing in things that they no longer needed, if someone else could benefit from them. But threadbare clothes, shoes that barely had a sole left on them and sometimes the plain odd-a single artificial leg and a set of old fashioned women’s corsets to name but two. How did that help anyone?

The trouble was that almost everything arrived bagged up in black bin liners. Ricky’s view was that the size and age of the vehicle pulling up outside the Centre was usually a good guide to quality of the donations in the bag.The bigger the car and newer the registration plates, the less likely it was that the delivery would be of any use, despite the cheery assertion by the driver that “I’ve brought a few things that the people at the Centre might be able to make use of.”

Ricky was becoming quite animated as he started talking about something that had happened earlier in the week. He’d been sorting through some bags of clothing brought in by a well dressed woman who had seemed quite upset and close to tears. The clothing had been her father’s. He’d died well over a year ago, but she said that it had taken her all of that time to reach a point where she was able to give them to the Centre.

Describing how he had tried on one of the jackets after she had gone, he had checked the pockets and found a sealed envelope with a name written on it in barely legible writing.

Ricky’s latest story had just begun…