Me and my Italian friend Marco have been playing tunes in the Duke of York. It’s been a brilliant session: great tunes, no head-melters, and a few pints. Even better, there is talk of a party at the house of some girl from the Art College that somebody knows. And it’s up the Ormeau Road as well, around Rosetta – our end of town, perfect. We get our carryout, the obligatory four tins of Harp each, and go for a taxi. Our connection knows the address, and in a few minutes we are there.
A girl in her early twenties opens the door and greets us. She is pretty, with fair hair in a bob, and red lipstick. She is holding an old sandal aloft, and tells us that it’s a shoe party. Marco and I exchange a look. We are at a loss to understand what a shoe party is, but say nothing, in order to avoid the explanation. She has never met us before, but this doesn’t bother her: we are musicians, and even better, one of us is Italian. Her name is Clare; it is her party. She is from the Tyrone countryside, and she loves Irish Music.
The house is fairly quiet at the moment, but it will surely get busy once the pubs have fully disgorged their alcohol-fuelled crowds onto the city streets. There is loud dance music throbbing from the front room, so we go into the kitchen, open a beer and make rollups. We chat for a while with Clare and one of her friends. They ask us to play a tune, so we go into the back room and sit down, take out the instruments and lash into it. The stereo in the front is turned down for us, and with the door closed we have a nice wee session going in no time. We’re on good form, not too blocked to play. And so we pass the next couple of hours: tunes, beers, smokes, and chat; it really is a brilliant night.
The party is still going strong, but it is home time for me. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and I’m wrecked. On top of that, the beer is finished. Marco decides to share a taxi with me, so we go into the hall to use the phone. Just at that moment Clare takes a call, so we sit on the stairs and wait for her to finish. I can tell instantly that she’s had bad news. Her face has turned ghostly white, and she looks stunned. Her friend comes over, takes her arm, asks what’s up. It was the police: her brother has been killed in a car crash outside Dungannon. Clare is in shock; the tears haven’t started yet. She is paralysed, staring at the cream plastic phone handset in her left hand. Everyone else is immobilised too; we are frozen into a silent, hideous, Tableau.
Suddenly the stillness is blown apart by an explosion of noise: there is shouting outside, and a loud knock at the front door, which Clare opens mechanically. A gang of drunken girls burst in. The one in the lead has a mass of curly black hair. She is waving a red stiletto in Clare’s face, shouting Shoe! at the top of her voice. We stare in disbelief. It seems like an age before she realises something is wrong. Marco and I mumble inadequate apologies and head for the door. Clare is still gripping the receiver. We’re walking: no taxi tonight.