Suzie Tremors and the Barbarians of Speed

Chapter Four

Ken Preston

12 February 2024

An illustraation of an angry punk woman screaming into a microphone.

You got any more of that coffee?

And a cigarette, you got a cigarette?

Yeah, that’s better. It’s like, I just got to keep warm, you know? Look at me, I’m shivering.

Suzie played her first gig the next night with her new backing band. These guys, they were identical, like they were triplets. They towered over Suzie, and their instruments looked like toys in their massive hands. The one on electric guitar, I couldn’t work out how he could play that thing. His fingers were like fat sausages, you know, like the skin was ready to burst.

The bassist was the same, and the drummer hulked over his kit, looked like he could destroy it just by sneezing.

And their eyes, man, their eyes were black, like a doll’s eyes.

But when they started playing, when that first electric scream cut through the room, and the feedback swallowed it up, hard enough to burst eardrums, and then looped back down into a dirty growl that wormed its way into the pit of your stomach until you thought you were gonna shit yourself, yeah, that was it, that was when Suzie Tremors and the Barbarians of Speed announced themselves to the world.

Suzie screamed and wailed into her microphone, and her Barbarians carried her with that evil bass beat, and the drummer smashed his kit like he was murdering it. There couldn’t have been more than fifty kids crowded up against the stage. They’d come ready to mock Suzie, to hate her and abuse her like they always did.

Instead, they worshipped her.

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They rammed themselves against the stage and lifted their hands in the air, Jesus freaks getting high on the Holy Spirit. And they wailed and screamed and spoke in tongues.

And that was just the start.

The next night the crowd was double the size, and the night after that they were turning them away at the doors. And every night Suzie screamed and wailed, that ragged yell a cocktail of rusty nails and cheap whisky. Behind her, skulking in the shadows, the Barbarians of Speed assaulted us with a sledgehammer of feedback and fuzz; ear-bleeding, chest-vibrating, chainsaw wielding chaos.

I got in there, right in among that madness with my camera. Like I was a part of it, but separate too, you know? The crowd, they kicked and punched me and dragged me to the beer-sticky floor, and kicked me some more. But I kept hold of my Leica and I got the photos.

You’ve seen them, right? Those photos got snapped up by the NME, Smash Hits, The Sun, The Mirror, even The Guardian.

Unbelievable.

No other photographers were allowed to capture Suzie Tremors in silver nitrate.

Suzie Tremors and the Barbarians of Speed played twenty-seven nights straight, in any shitty basement bar that would have them. Thing is, word was getting around town, and everybody wanted a piece of Suzie now.

You know the story. Suzie and her band took the music scene and ripped it apart and pissed on it. They sounded like nobody else. They looked like nobody else. Nothing could touch them. They were on a meteoric, out of control, runaway express to the top, and I was on the ride with them.

Me and Henry Ng.

Yeah, he was there, hanging around in the shadows at every gig, licking those plump lips of his, his eyes crawling over Suzie like he was devouring her.

Creeped me out, man.

But he was nothing compared to the triplets. The Barbarians of Speed might have been able to play like a possessed three-piece rock band, but that was all they could do. Backstage they never spoke, they didn’t drink, they didn’t eat, they were like zombies. I swear they were so big they had to fold themselves through doorways, and they had to sit on the floor because there wasn’t a chair strong enough to support them.

And they never left Suzie alone, you know? They followed her everywhere, like lost puppies. They would have followed her into the bathroom, except she told them to get lost. After a month on the road, with those three Hulk lookalikes trailing after her, and Ng skulking around and undressing her with his eyes, Suzie had reached the end.

‘I’ve had enough, I want out,’ she said.

We’d managed to slip away after a gig. Found a crappy little bar in Soho with a licence to keep whatever hours it wanted.

Suzie stared at me, wide-eyed and wired, and I swear her eyes were darker than I ever remembered.

‘Those creeps weird me out,’ she said, and I swear her arms and her neck were thicker than I remembered.

‘Suzie Tremors and the Barbarians of Speed are finished,’ she said.

I said, ‘Henry Ng will never let that happen.’

And I said, ‘ But I’ve got a plan.’

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