Chapter Eight: No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands

It was only six o’clock when we arrived in Manchester on the Monday, but it was already dark.  The pavement was crowded with commuters waiting for buses to take them home, and the streetlights shone all the way to the corner of Newton Street.  It was going to rain, but by the time we reached The Gates and began to soundcheck, it was still just thinking about it.

  The gig itself was great, much better than the last gig we played there.  It probably helped that we were playing with two excellent bands, The Girls From Mars and another One Way Or Another band, Dew, and, not only that, but also two bands that seem to be on the same wavelength as us musically.  This time when I looked out across the room, I saw a sea of heads and heard the hum of chatter that you get with a venue that is well and truly full.  Fergus said that the extra interest has come about because we’ve had a bit of press (locally) now, whereas before we hadn’t, but I think the size of the crowd had a lot to do with The Girls From Mars though, because they have a big local following.

  There were a lot of girls clustered together around the stage, including Nat.  Mum also came, although she was further back; she had dug out her Banshees t-shirt and leather jacket for the occasion.  Fergus was luckier than mum, crowd wise; he had found a niche by the side of the stage and clung onto it with grim determination.

  The Girls From Mars were on good form, and Fliss made sure that she was right at the front for their set.  There is something almost hypnotic about them when they’re at their best, something dark yet very listenable.  Dew played a good set too, although they were hindered a little by technical difficulties.

  The only nerve-wracking moment for use Rose girls (as Violet calls us) was premiering our version of The Divinyls ‘I Touch Myself’.  We don’t really go in for doing cover versions, and we weren’t sure of how the crowd would react.  We had considered doing The Waitresses ‘I Know What Boys Like’ but decided against it.  As it was, ‘I Touch Myself’ went down a storm.  Fliss had great fun singing it and flirting with the audience.  Tonight she wore a pale pink slip dress with a marabou trim, and the fabric glistened like a liquid when it caught the light, like her hair, which, as usual, was up in bunches.

  Flora and Katy had been playing around with websites at an internet café in Piccadilly before the gig and much to their amusement, they had located a hobbit site that provides the user with a secret hobbit name for each name they key in; sometimes it also provides you with the area of Middle Earth that you hail from.  They had done everyone who was to accompany us on the tourbus, but I can only remember the Titanium Rose ones, and Fergus’.

  The morning after the Sheffield gig, I woke up on the bus with the sun shining in my eyes and Fliss and Flora curled up on the seats immediately in front and behind me, both still fast asleep.  My back was hurting, so I eased myself into an upright position, climbed out of my seat, walked down the aisle, and opened the door.

  Fergus was already up and was leaning against the bus, smoking.  He glanced up as I joined him, “Morning, Tigerlily.”

  “Morning, Bodo”

  He smiled, “Tigerlily suits you.”

  “I thought Fliss’ was good,” I admitted as I surveyed the misty view of the distant Pennines, “Dolly; that was quite apt.”  I reached into my pockets for my cigarettes, but failed to locate them; I must have left them in my coat.

  “Here,” he lit one of his own and passed it to me.

  “Thanks, I owe you.”

  “Forget it,” he waved his hand dismissively.

  We were quiet for a few minutes, before he dropped his cigarette butt and ground it into the tarmac with his boot, and asked me, “How old are you?

  “Nineteen: why?”

  He shrugged and scuffed the rough gravel of the makeshift car park with his boots, “You look older with make-up; I thought you were about twenty five or something…” He looked up, and met my eyes; “You look prettier without make-up, without all that black stuff round your eyes.”

  I sighed, “You were doing so well until then…” But I wasn’t really angry with him, not like I have been.  I like him, but as a friend, I know that he still wants more from me than that, but he should know by now that he isn’t going to get more.

  After the Leeds gig that night, after the others had fallen asleep, he drove and I sat across the aisle from him, talking to him, and keeping him awake.  We talked about all kinds of things, beginning with music, but then moving onto so much more. As we drove into the night, I felt myself begin to trust him for the first time.  He was easy to talk to, easy to banter with, laugh with, and I knew that I could talk to him about almost anything.  “I was going to be a ballet dancer,” I told him.  He laughed as I continued, “seriously, I was going to study at the Northern Ballet School and be a principal dancer one day somewhere and tour the world.”

  He saw that I was being serious, and stopped laughing, “So what happened then? What made you choose music instead?”

  I shrugged, “Stuff happened…”

  He nodded sagely as he added quietly, “Nat mentioned that you dropped out of the ballet school, she said you had a place, but it didn’t work out.”

  “I got very ill,” I said, equally quietly, “I was asked to leave, maybe come back when I was better, but that didn’t happen… By then, I’d lost my chance.”

  The conversation died as I gazed out of the window into the darkness.  The rain pelted the windows as we travelled along the dark, deserted, never ending motorway, towards Newcastle.

  The Girls From Mars turned out to be great fun to tour with, both energetic and generous; we had agreed beforehand that we would take it in turns to headline, and that we would split any profits 50/50, an arrangement that everyone seemed happy with.

  Despite their legendary drinking habits, they were generally amiable and easy to get along with.  Thayla, the drummer, slept in every day and generally rose around 2pm with bloodshot eyes and a shaky, staggering gait, acquired by means both legal and illegal.  Jack Daniels and hash were her main preferences, but in practice, she would take whatever she could pick up at gigs.  I saw Fergus frown reproachfully in her direction a few times, particularly on the nights when Katy also indulged in whatever happened to be going, but he never said anything: It would have been pointless really if he had.  Moyra and Violet tended to be the most active during the day, but all four Girls From Mars were on overdrive at night.  Violet tended to be surrounded by adoring young fans after the gigs, some adored her for the music, some adored her for more physical reasons, and some were infatuated in both senses.  Most nights she would bring along a selection of fans to the increasingly wild after show parties that Moyra and Katy initiated, and would disappear with one or more of them for several hours, re-appearing just as we were about to leave, her clothes awry, her hair mussed, her make-up smudged, covered in lovebites and looking almost smug.  She had masses of energy, and was usually the first up in the morning, and the last to go to bed.

  We had stopped in a coach park somewhere in the midlands one night, and I watched from my seat near the back as outside on the lush, damp grass Violet and Fliss, the only other people awake, gazed up at the clear, dark blue night sky.  The stars were out, and the moon was whole and shining silvery bright.   Fliss was pointing to something in the sky, but I couldn’t see her face because she was too far away.  In the darkness, I saw Violet take hold of her hand as Fliss continued to point things out in the sky, and Violet followed her gaze.  She had forsaken a night of groupie entertainment in order to star gaze with Fliss, which seemed strange to me.

  By the time they got back to the coach, Fliss was shivering in her white cotton strappy dress and, from my vantage point near the back I saw Violet reach for one of her shirts and drape it around her.  Nearby, Thayla was snoring and Jane stirred, sighed, then turned over and went back to sleep.  I crouched lower in my seat, unwilling to be noticed now that Fliss and Violet were back on board.  Through the gap in the seats, I saw Violet lean towards Fliss.  Fliss had been looking out of the window, but just then she turned her head, and I saw Violet slowly kiss her.  I held my breath as Fliss returned the kiss, she seemed hesitant at first, and a little shy, but after a while she seemed to relax.  As they continued to kiss, I began to feel uncomfortable; I realised that I shouldn’t be watching something as intensely private as this.  I lay down on my seat and closed my eyes, feeling guilty yet… pleased for Fliss.

  It was after the gig in Cambridge that things began to change.  A sullen note began to creep onto the bus as we travelled further into the tour.  Little things that had once seemed insignificant, or even amusing once, began to grate.  It’s very difficult to put into words just how boring it can be, being cooped up with eight other people for nineteen hours a day.  Even when you’ve arrived at a venue, and you’ve soundchecked, and are about to perform, it’s still not great, because even if you play a great set, meet lots of cool people, and have a fantastic time, at the end of the night, the music stops, the lights are switched on, the audience leaves, and all you’re left with are the staff of that particular venue, who are going home soon, and eight people by the door, who you will have to spend another nineteen hours of boredom with.

  It started when Thayla, hung over one afternoon, objected to the tape that Katy had just put on the bus stereo (Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo’).  Katy refused to take it off because, after all, it was her turn.  She had to put up with everyone else’s shite taste in music, she yelled down the bus, so Thayla could put up with hers.  Thayla didn’t argue after that, but she and Katy didn’t speak for the rest of the tour.

  Next it was Moyra’s turn.  She wanted The Girls From Mars to headline that nights gig, even though it was Titanium Rose’ turn, and an argument broke out between her and Flora as to who was bringing in the most fans each night and, consequently, the most revenue.  Soon Katy had joined in, then Jane, then me, then Fergus.  Violet and Fliss refused to take sides, and the argument ended with Moyra branding Violet a “traitor” and Titanium Rose headlining as originally planned.

  Then Katy homed in on me.  We had played a terrible gig in Ipswich, and both bands had filed onto the coach afterwards in silence.  Fliss and Violet sought refuge at the back of the bus, leaving Thayla to pass out on the seat in front.  Moyra sat, tight-lipped, next to Fergus, whilst Jane tried to sleep.  Flora was wearily sketching designs for clothes, and had cut herself off from the rest of us by plugging herself into her discman.  The coach zoomed down the dark, empty motorway; the lampposts and neon signs lit our way as the rain lashed the windows.  In the strong, claustrophobic silence, Katy watched me, and I watched Katy.

  It was still pouring down when we turned off the motorway into the dark, wet, eerily quiet service station car park.  The temperature had dropped, and I found myself shivering as I climbed out and ran, arms folded over my chest in an attempt to keep warm, towards the toilets.

  Katy was the first back to the bus.  She was leaning against the chassis, glowering, when I returned.  We glared at each other in the stony silence.  Eventually, I snapped, “I know you don’t like me,” a small part of me cautioned me as to the folly of continuing, but I was angry and fed up, and so ignored it, “but there was no need for you to fuck about with my kit when we were loading up.”

  “So don’t drop my fucking guitar,”

  I scowled, “If you’ve got something to say, say it.”

  “Oh plenty,” she glowered, “but I’m not interested in words.”  The punch caught me by surprise, somewhere between my right eye and my nose, and I didn’t even think about it, I punched her back with equal force, hitting her right between the eyes, so hard she fell back against the bus with a crash.  With a snarl of rage, she threw herself at me, and we fell onto the wet, grimy, gritty tarmac.

  I had her by the hair and was thumping her, repeatedly, in the chest when someone grabbed me from behind and hauled me off her.  We had been fighting for a while by then.  They held me in a vice like grip as I watched Fergus pull Katy to her feet, and then grab her as my captor had done when she tried to throw herself at me again.  She was glaring with an almost psychotic rage, her eyes glinting furiously in the night.  Her right eye was puffy, and blood was dripping from her nose.  My eye began to throb in sympathy.

  Still, our fight was a turning point of sorts.  We all grew quieter, more wary.  We seemed to accept the job in hand, and we were learning to simply get on with it.

  A few nights later, after the nights gig, Fliss sat at the front of the bus and talked to Fergus.  Further back, about halfway down the bus, I leant back against the window and put my feet up on the seats.  Across the aisle, Flora had adopted a similar position and was busily sketching designs for clothes in her sketchbook.  Everybody else was asleep, so for all intents and purposes, the pair of us were alone.  It had been Flora’s turn to pick the tape for the bus stereo, and she had chosen an old Natasha Atlas CD; dance beats weaved their way in and out of the melody as the Arabic vocals soared, and it was all very soothing as we bumped along in the dimly lit bus.

  Flora took a break to rest her hand, and I took the opportunity to peruse her designs.  As I was doing so, I heard Fergus ask Fliss who had written the lyrics to ‘The Battle You Cannot Win.’ I froze as I heard Fliss reply, “Maggie did.”

  “Just Maggie?” he asked.

  “Yes,” Fliss seemed puzzled, “why do you ask?”

  “Oh, no reason,” he concluded lamely, “just wondered,” he didn’t say anymore, but I sensed that he was troubled by something.

  We went onto a club after the London gig, with some members of the other two bands on the bill, Avenge and Witch Tree.  It was a modest sized venue, and the DJ’s were playing surf and northern soul records.  I danced for a little while, but I was very tired by then, so I soon made my excuses and sat down to watch.  Fergus joined me not long after, and we watched as Flora and Katy danced with Moyra and Jane.  Thayla had chosen to sit that song out, and Violet and Fliss were snogging in the opposite corner.  I was so tired that I rested my head on his shoulder.  As I closed my eyes, I could sense him, gently stroking my hair.

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