Outside, a stretch of lawn had been cleared, and groups of bandsmen were polishing their instruments, shaking out the accumulated spittle and setting up music stands. Each Brass Band was similarly uniformed, somewhat like bus-conductors, with peaked caps, but distinguished by colour. There were mills’ bands in maroon or navy, miners’ bands in scarlet, charcoal or green, and a Sergeant Pepper tribute in shimmering pink, yellow, sky-blue and crimson satin.
The SPZ and Brick Lane Zapatista Massed Marching Mariachi were on the brink of being disqualified for not being Traditional and were being defended vociferously by The Megadeath Morris, already barred on account of not remotely resembling a brass anything. The resultant loud squabbling had drawn a crowd. Eventually it was agreed that the trumpet section from the Massed Mariachi along with a small contingent of buglers from the West Surrey Mounted Makhnovchina could compete, but there were to be strictly no guitarrón mexicano or fiddles.
Unseen behind one of the moot hall’s open windows, and with his back to it so that he would not be influenced or prejudiced by any prior knowledge regarding the contestants, the competition adjudicator sat waiting to pass judgement on each performance. The order of play was determined by the drawing of lots from a venerated cloth cap, donated by Keir Hardie himself in times gone by – and, after much fumbling and faffing, the competition was under way.
By the third rendition of Mull of Kintyre Phoebles was becoming fidgety and Boz had dozed off. He woke with a start as the Zapatista Mariachi launched into The Birdie Song. Their chances of winning were looking slim, but Snowdrop was wolf whistling and shouting “Encore!” While he slept they had been joined by Anna and Bui. Aunty Stella was there too, having changed from her Subcommandante’s uniform into denim jeans and a salmon-red and black bee-striped fuzzy jumper. She had Googleberry with her and he had acquired a large Italian ice-cream cone.
“Some foreign chap with a black eye was giving them away before they melted, from a Galatia tricycle with a bent wheel and defunct freezer. Looked like it’d been blown apart by a minor explosion.”
As the competition results were announced over the Tannoy system there was loud applause from the crowd, and some grumbling from the competitors.
“Look. Over there.” Ferdy had spotted Barrymore striding jauntily towards them across the green. She was beckoning furiously for them all to meet her half way.
“Larry wants every one out front of the main stage as soon as you’re finished here. Who won?”
Phoebles shrugged, “That bunch with the tubas and trombones and stuff, I think. Or that other lot with trumpets and French horns and a drum. Or maybe…”
Behind them a fight had broken out. Two bandleaders were at war over the competition trophy, grasping a handle each and tugging in opposite directions. More and more bandsmen joined in, swinging their instruments like halberds.
There was a sudden surge as a wave of screaming Reivers and wildcats plunged into the fray. And then, scattering combatants in all directions, Rotskagg Blenkinsopp was in the midst with an ululating Dark Flo balanced precariously on his shoulders.
“Someone is going to get hurt,” said Barrymore. As Boz and Co watched the spreading mayhem the Ranters moved in.
“Peace and love, man.”
Ducking fists the Ranter menfolk distributed flowers and spliffs. Girls, wriggling in between the grappling factions, handing out catnip mooncakes and kisses, began to calm the situation. As the violence subsided Rotskagg and Flo emerged from the crowd.
“Well that ended a bit disappointingly,” she said to Boz, “Blenkinsopp and I barely got started. Who are those hippie kill-joys?”
Barrymore resumed, “Larry. Main stage. All of you. Don’t hang about too long. Oh, and Mr Boz, Larry says someone has to pay for that airship he lent you. Have any of you seen Slasher McGoogs. The acting PM would like a word with him too.”
Googleberry started to whistle innocently, which is not easy with a mouth full of ice-cream.
“Not really his kind of scene, this,” said Boz, “Doubt we’ll see anything of him today.” He tried to put a conspiratorial arm upon Barrymore’s shoulder, but couldn’t quite reach that high. “Erm… About that airship…” he almost whispered.