I have difficulty believing in ghosts these days. The idea of the human soul living on after death as an autonomous spiritual presence doesn't compute with me. I am open to the possibility, and I believe we do have some influence on the phsyical world beyond our own lifetimes. But the idea of a fully-formed entity visiting us from beyond the grave is, I suggest, a combination of Victorian fiction and well-intended wishful thinking. These days, I subscribe to the idea of a non-mortal collective consciousness that impacts on what we see as the physical world.
With that caveat, though, here is a true ghost story starring me and the wonderful yet now-defunct rock band, Tokyo Dragons.
We were in a vacuous venue in Tamworth, in the Midlands: The Palace. It's a grand name for a bland, cheaply-carpeted club for young rockers to spill beer and jump around in. It had been converted from a derelict cinema and the Dragons were playing this particular night. I was the driver.
As we lugged amps, guitars and drums through the door at the side into the backstage area, the affable local crew and promoter shared a little history of the place with us: the dodgy metal bands that had played there before, the festival they were trying to get together for that summer, and Charlotte... the house ghoul.
They were serious. Charlotte, they told us, was the ghost of a young girl who haunted her favourite picture house. The club owner said he had seen her shadowy image drift past his office as he cashed up. The front of house soundman said he regularly contacted her through seances he would conduct in the little dressing room off to the side of the stage.
The Dragons and I had been through some ups, downs and bizarre events already on this particular tour. So we enjoyed this latest distraction and during the soundcheck thoughts of Charlotte were running high in our minds. It became a bit of an in-band joke. Drummer Phil Martini, in particular, took up the baton big-style and made spooky sounds into his vocal mic while his levels were being checked. "Woooh, I'm a scary ghosty called Charlotte..." he mocked. "Look at me, I'm so scaaaaaary," etc. I remember either Mal or Steve, the twin guitarists, warning: "I wouldn't take the piss, Phil. She'll 'ave ya!"
Fast forward to the dressing room, where we're sat around drinking, waiting for doors to open. Phil the ghost-mocker is crouched on the floor, leaning against one of the walls. We're all chatting quite merrily when, without reason or warning, a mirror toppled off a tabletop and hit him - thwack - on the top of the head. It looked like it hurt a lot. "Told you you shouldn't have taken the piss out of the ghost," someone says. More laughs.
A short time after that, it's my turn. I'm sat on a sofa, mobile 'phone in one hand, bottle of lager in the other. I'm texting a friend - telling her about the haunted venue we find ourselves in. As I type through the letters of C-H-A-R-L-O.... my right hand and arm make an involuntary spasmodic jerk. I have soaked myself in beer, having shaken the entire bottle into my face. As the sticky liquid drips off my ears, nose and chin, I find myself surrounded by incredulous faces: "What are you doing, man!?" I don't know - it felt like my arm was not my own.
Third and final event. This time, after the (really very good) show. I'm stood in the doorway of the dressing room, talking to the band. This time, it's guitarist Mal who gives me a soaking. He took a swig of beer, turned towards me and sprayed his entire gobful of Becks into my face. It was another case of "What are you doing, man?!"
Mal didn't know - and was hugely apologetic. I was hugely wet. We were all hugely baffled. But it had to be the ghost, right?
We spoke about it to the soundman who, surprisingly, was hugely sceptical of our stories. Must have been an accident... you must have shivered... must fix that mirror etc. A little later, we allowed him to go through his seance act so he could show us the 'real' Charlotte, but for all his dramatic deep-breathing, he was clearly leading us on.
As for our experiences, I just couldn't tell you what happened. I didn't enjoy getting two beer soakings, and I know I would never willingly throw beer over my own head. I'd like to think that Mal wouldn't willingly drench me, either - but he's on Facebook so maybe he'll let me know for sure... And Phil (even though he's a drummer - ha!) surely doesn't like banging things against his head. Pretty confident about that.
The troubled Palace shut down shortly after the Dragons gig and has since reopened as a faceless sports bar. I have to wonder if Charlotte is still a visitor there, giving the chavs a good soaking...