The band was playing but where were the dancers?
The ballroom had been swept clean in readiness for the well advertised dance. The proprietor, Curly O'Donovan, personally carried out his final inspection, ensured that the toilets were clean, that fire extinguishers were in position and serviceable, that the rolls of admission tickets were in place and finally he drew the bag of cash from his overcoat pocket and placed it in the drawer of the desk in the cramped ticket office. Satisfied that all was ready he sat down at the side of the empty dance-floor, unfolded his copy of the local weekly newspaper and studied the back page once more, trying to determine what opposition, if any, his planned dance might be facing. During the nineteen sixties in Ireland the back page of many local newspapers displayed entertainment and public dance announcements and there were no other dances advertised for the same night. The band he had booked was very popular. It would be a profitable night.
The Bluebell Quartet had established a popular niche market offering a mixture of 'old fashioned' ballroom dancing with sing-along music that was well suited to a wide age-range market. Confident that its reputation would fill his hall for the well-advertised dance, Curly eagerly awaited the arrival of the band.
At 8:30 pm he opened the door just as the band's minibus drew up outside. A quick greeting, some speculative remarks regarding the size of the crowd that could be expected and the four musicians began transferring their equipment from the minibus to the stage. At 9 o'clock the first notes of the evening were played to the empty dance-floor. Few, if any, patrons were expected to enter until after 10 pm, that was normal. Then a brave early trickle would quickly build up to a rush at the door and by 11 pm the polished floor would no longer be visible from the stage.
The band ran through its warm-up selections for the first hour with only Curly as audience. By 11:30 there was a whiff of anxiety in the air. Where were the usual early fans? Curly approached the stage and spread out a copy of local newspaper, jabbing his finger on the generous display advertisement. There it was: Dance from 9 to 2 with music by the ever-popular Bluebell Quartet.
Unease, puzzlement, worried glances and dismissive shrugs on the stage as the proprietor paced the bleak floorboards, eventually seeking solace in the projection room above the balcony.
The Bluebell Quartet played on, now well into the repertoire that should already have had scores of early feet on the dance-floor.
What could have happened? Had there been some major disaster that they were unaware of? Had the President died suddenly? Or the Pope? Never before had they played for an event where nobody turned up. Where were the Bluebell's devoted dancing followers? Had somebody started an unsavory rumor about the band, or about the hall?
At midnight Curly strode out into the street, returning quickly to announce glumly from the centre of the dance-floor, "We'd better abandon the dance, lads. There's nobody coming. The street is empty. There isn't a living soul… OH!"
Four pairs of eyes stared down at him. He seemed to have been struck dumb or was about to have some sort of fit. He quickly regained his composure however.
"Pack up, lads. Pack up your gear and come to my house for a cup of tea."
Curly sat on one side of the empty hall, staring bleakly at the very clean floor like one defeated in battle while the four musicians dismantled their kit and loaded it into the minibus. Each one returned to the stage to make a final check that nothing had been forgotten and then sat beside the man who had booked them for his doomed dance.
"What's happened? Why did nobody turn up?" Edward enquired.
By way of reply Curly took out his wallet and began to count out notes.
"No!" Edward stopped him, "It's the business policy of the Bluebell Quartet never to take more than is taken at the door from a dance promoter. You took nothing tonight so that is what we charge. Nothing."
"No! Nothing!" echoed the other three, Harry, Willy and Victor as Curly waved the wad of notes towards them.
"We'll hold you to the tea though!" added Harry, always quick to defuse an awkward situation with humor.
"But it wasn't your fault, it was all mine." declared Curly. The four pairs of eyes stared at him, silently demanding an explanation from the very embarrassed proprietor of the hall.
"I booked you for tonight but I forgot to check what night it was. Nobody would stay out late anywhere around this part of the country on this night. They're all afraid of the ghosts! It's All Souls Night. It's Halloween!"
© Victor Sullivan, 2010 (former Bluebell Quartet Organist)