Every now and then a memory surfaces that you haven’t thought about for years. It just happened to me…
I’m nineteen, maybe twenty, years old. Improbably, I am co-managing a collection of basement rehearsal rooms in London Bridge called Samurai Studios. The place isn’t much to look at but Motorhead (minus Lemmy) rehearse (drink) there one evening a week and one of the damper rooms contains a Fairlight machine that Jeff Wayne allegedly used on War of the Worlds.
The position I hold is unpaid as the place makes no money and is forever on the brink of being closed down. Through a weird confluence of events, some of the diehard musos who work there got in touch with a friend of mine and asked her to help get some money into the place and get it back on its feet. I’d just left a shitty job in sales, which I was quite good at, and I owned a suit so my friend asked me to come and help put together a business plan and talk to some investors with her.
We were there for a few months and we worked really hard and got to know the bands who used the place and grew to love the crusty fuckers who kept it going on a technical level; repairing amps and fixing PAs etc. We put together what we thought was a pretty good business plan and figured out how much investment we needed. Then we went out and met with some City high-flyers to try and raise the cash. We even got close on a couple of occasions but the deals always seemed to fall through at the last moment. I’m under no illusions that this was mostly down to our lack of experience and probably our age too - who takes a nineteen-year-old in an oversize M&S suit seriously?
We leased the rehearsal rooms from the company that owned and operated the building above us. They were bottom-line guys and they wanted Samurai Studios to start paying them rent or get the fuck out. Fair enough. They gave us a deadline which we persuaded them to extend a couple of times and, that last time, we really nearly made it but not quite.
Came the fateful day when they were going to turf us out. My friend was in tears, as were the crusty tech guys; a sight I never expected to see. I felt guilty. I knew we’d done everything we could but I also knew, deep down, that we had not been the right people for the job and that the staff’s faith in our ability to get them out of the hole they were in had been horribly misplaced. I wanted to do something, some last ditch attempt at a stay of execution.
I called upstairs and asked the landlord’s financial officer, with whom we’d been dealing, if he could come down and talk to me. He duly appeared; a small, balding man, in a much nicer suit that mine. He stood in the main room and stared at a six-foot tall bear of a man with hair halfway down his back, wearing a Saxon t-shirt, who was crying his eyes out. The Bear saw the financial officer, tried to compose himself and said “Please let us stay, this is our home”.
There are a number of ways the FO could have responded to this, a number of understanding-yet-unfortunately-pragmatic ways of letting this crying bear down gently. What he actually opted for was a grimace of disdain, accompanied by the words “People like you disgust me. You’re pathetic.” Diplomatically handled, then. In other, less distressing circumstances, the Bear might well have killed him for those words. But the Bear was broken.
I wasn’t giving up just yet. I asked the FO if I could talk to him in private, man-in-suit to younger-man-in-cheaper-suit. We adjourned to a tiny rehearsal room and I pled my case; could we just have a few more weeks? I understood that the landlord had no immediate plans for the place so could we just carry on trying to find investment if we agreed to hand over every penny we took renting out rehearsal space to the landlord in that time? The bear and his colleagues had agreed an hour earlier to not taking a salary for a few weeks if it could buy one last chance to turn the place around. I thought this show of determination and self-sacrifice might persuade the FO to grant an extension, not least because some rent being paid was surely better than no rent being paid.
I think the FO’s response was a formative moment in my life. He sneered, which I took as a bad sign. Then he stepped forward, jabbed me in the chest with his finger and said “You’ve failed, Mister Simpson. You have failed and you had better get used to it because you are someone who is going to fail at everything you try to do in life. You are a failure and that is all you are.”
I really wish I’d responded with “Is that a yes then?” but I was actually pretty stunned. I mean, I knew we hadn’t succeeded here. We had, in fact, failed. But I didn’t feel like “a failure”. It had never even occurred to me that I might be defined by my failures to the extent that I actually became an embodiment of the condition.
The financial officer left the room and returned to his office upstairs. I never saw him again. We vacated Samurai Studios that afternoon. We said our goodbyes to the Bear and his co-workers and we talked about keeping in touch but, in light of my new designation as “a failure”, I knew I’d never be able to look any of these people in the eye again after having let them down so badly. (This is called self-pity, and it’s never useful but you’re allowed to wallow in it at nineteen). I hope they all went on to bigger and better things.
A few years later, I wrote and directed my first feature film. There is a scene in it where the lead character, played by Steven Mackintosh, is in the depths of despair, having had his life turned upside down by forces beyond his control. At his lowest ebb we find him sitting in the doorway of a building, trying to figure out whether to give in to those forces or to fight against them.
The door he is leaning against used to bear the sign “Samurai Studios”.
It wasn’t a coincidence but, even now, I can’t decide if it I thought it was payback or an exorcism.