Girls To The Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

Reading this book was a bit like doing a jigsaw: fragments of the story I could recognise from earlier accounts of riot grrrl (most notably the riot grrrl chapter in Jenkins and Anderson’s Dance Of Days), some I remember being dimly aware of at the time, to varying degrees (Simple Machines and Positive Force I remember reading about/being aware of at the time because there was a Tsuinami interview in Ablaze! 10 and they mentioned the connection there), but they are fragments in a wider, more detailed narrative.

Before obtaining a copy of, and reading, the book I was a bit worried that it would be written for the academic market, and that it would tend towards dryness as a result, and be laden with theory (I got this impression from reading the review on Wears The Trousers) but it isn’t at all: It’s very vivid and readable. Marcus does write it from the position of an insider, which is a definite strength in this case as previous books on riot grrrl haven’t been written by insiders, but her perspective doesn’t mean she is uncritical: she is setting up the cracks as well as showing the strengths.

The analysis of the frequently contested, maligned, and misunderstood activity of writing on the body is interesting. Through Kathleen Hanna, Marcus links it to art history and artists such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, to ACT UP and straight edge, revealing prededents and possible influences. I also like the way Susan Faludi’s ‘Backlash’ (which I read just prior to this on the basis that it was probably long overdue that I did), Madonna, and the post-punk film ‘Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains!’ are mentioned and discussed. She sums up writing on the body this way:

a girl’s body was contested territory; this was a way to rewrite its meaning.

I begin to see more and more that the riot grrrls essentially, consciously or not, picked up the gauntlet laid down to women at the end of ‘Backlash’, where Faludi wrote, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘This is how it’s been in the 80’s, what will happen in the 90’s?’

I also think that Marcus sums up a crisis point beautifully when she writes in the 1992-3 section “Riot Grrrl was edging its way, involuntarily, towards the cultural mainstream, and it wasn’t ready to be there.”

In terms of the way punk and riot grrrl have been fetishized and the nostalgia aspect has become damaging, I found a section of the book where Marcus discussed Seanna Tully’s introduction into riot grrrl particularly poignant: Tully became a riot grrrl in 1992, and she proudly wore a ‘Riot Grrrl; shrinky dink necklace, but was acutely aware of it not coming from the first batch of such homemade neckaces.

 “I had first-generation-shrinky dink envy,” Seanna laughed later, aware of how silly it sounded, but her comment pointed to something real: how easy it is to idealize things that happened in the past, or are happening to somebody else, as more enticing than what you could make out of your own life.

Another general strength is that the book clearly makes a strong case for music as a serious tool in feminisms arsenal: How many girls would get to tour a feminist lecture tour? and how many would attend? What would be the entry requirements to speak on such a tour? And what would be the entry requirements for a group of young feminists to form a punk band and tour?

I also like that Marcus isn’t afraid to discuss the violence bands like Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear faced, from men and women, and from some of the riot grrrls in the end. She also acknowledges the chilling impact of murder and rape within the punk scenes, and of Kurt Cobains suicide.

The decline and fall section is very good, in that she recognises the impact of burnout, sheer disillusionment, the searing impact of media intrusion, failure to address issues of class and ethnicity (I should probably say race, but the ghost of A Level Sociology lingers on…) and the subsequent battles within that ensued as a result of this, also the impact of Jessica Hopper’s breaking of the media embargo, and individual acts of profound selfishness on the various chapters and scenes. I like the postcript very much, in that she acknowledges the enduring impact and influence of riot grrrl, whilst also pointing to the fact that American society has got worse, not better, since riot grrrl.

Needless to say, the book focuses on the U.S scenes and chapters, so whilst the U.K gets a mention, it’s only in the form of London, Huggy Bear, Linus, and Lucy Thane’s film of the Bikini Kill/Huggy Bear tour in 1993: ‘It Saved My Life’. There’s a vague reference to chapters, bands, and scenes, in ‘the north of England’, but that’s it. This is to be expected though as it’s clear that the book was never intended to take a much wider view than the U.S. One day, fuller, worldwide accounts of the impact riot grrrl had on girls in Britain, Holland, Belgium, France, Brazil, Poland, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and beyond will be written, but scrappy accounts are what exist at present, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

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Chapter Thirty Two: Adrienne

As a favour to Fliss and me Fergus had arranged for me to become the new receptionist at Twilight Studios; I had done phone work before, and Nat had explained the switchboard to me once she heard of Fergus’ plan, but, despite this preparation, there were some things that no one could have prepared me for, like the pipe cleaner thin, shaggy haired singer/guitarist recording with his band in one of the studios that week.  He sauntered over to me around twelve ish, with the predatory tread of the born hunter, and attempted to pull a stunt known to regulars at The Gates and other small mancunian music venues as ‘Hey-Babe-I’m-The-Singer-In-The-Band-Lets-Get-It-On’ syndrome.

  I suppressed a yawn “I’m in a band as well.” I said, casually.

  He feigned interest “Are you the singer then?”

“No” I said warily “I’m the drummer.”

  He laughed, as I had known he would; they always do.  At last, he stopped, but he was smirking as he asked “So, did you, like, form through auditions then?”

  “No” I replied icily “We did it the old fashioned way.”

  “All girl band?” he leered.

  “Yeees…” I could see where this was heading.

  He nodded, no longer confused “Yeah, punk band…”

  “Well, sort…”

  “…into Courtney Love and Avril Lavigne.”

  “No” I scowled “not at all.”

  An end to the conversation arrived in the form of Fergus, fresh from the lift; he came striding over, planted a kiss on my cheek, and announced that he was taking me to dinner.  As we watched the singer/guitarist depart, Fergus remarked, “He was chatting you up, wasn’t he?”

  I sighed wearily, “Of course he was, darling, he’s a rock star, he thinks every woman he meets should automatically fall to their knees and go down on him; it’s what he thinks we’re here for…” I was tired, which always makes me irritable, or I wouldn’t have been so all encompassing in my statement.  It’s only certain men and certain musicians who behave that way, not all of them.

  After work, he drove me home.  Fliss had gone to the supermarket to do the weekly shop, but she had cooked tea before she left.  I took it out of the oven, and had just sat down on the sofa with it on a tray, when there was a knock at the door.

  Cursing extensively, I put the tray down on the table, where Marmalade would be less likely to eat it, and traipsed down the stairs to the door.

  I was confronted by a slightly pallid and crumpled looking girl; she had long brown hair and dark eyes, and was wearing a pair of battered and ripped bleach washed jeans, her trainers were falling apart, and she wore a baggy, shapeless, t-shirt that may once have been black, but which was now a faded dark grey.  Her hair hung loose, almost to her waist, and needed washing.  She looked as though she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for weeks.  “You don’t know me” she blurted in her thick, Lancashire accent “but I need to see Fliss, I’m Adrienne.”  She extended a pale slim arm, but I didn’t take her hand, and she drew back, her eyes wary as she said quietly “I know; you must hate me, but…” her eyes were pleading “I have to see her, I have to explain…”

  “She’s not here,” I said, unhelpfully.

  “Then may I wait?”

  Something in her expression and manner made me say yes; there was an anxiety, and… there was something that I couldn’t quite pin down, something that couldn’t be faked: humility, or… love.  As soon as I realised it, I knew just what it was that had attracted Fliss to her: She had fallen in love with the girl, not the star.

  I stepped aside, and motioned for her to go upstairs; she didn’t have much luggage with her, just a small travelling bag, as battered and worn as her clothes; it was heavy yet not unbearably so.

  When she saw that I was in the middle of my tea, she was most apologetic, and I watched from the sofa as she sat down nervously in one of the armchairs.  It was only when Marmalade jumped up and settled down on her lap that she began to relax; I noticed her body lose its tension as she stroked the cat, but she couldn’t smile.  After I had eaten, we talked.  That is to say, she talked and I asked the occasional question.

  “I won’t whinge and try to make myself look good” she began, harshly “because I brought this all on myself, and I have to take responsibility for that as much as anything else, but I think things could have been different if there’d been even one person in my life who I could trust not to be a self serving wanker…” She sighed, and leant back in the chair.  She seemed exhausted.  “But now I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

   “What happened?”  I asked softly.

  “You know what happened” her voice was thick with tiredness “You know from Fliss what happened, how we met, how we were caught out…”

  “But I don’t know your side of things” I pointed out, gently “I don’t understand why you acted like you did to Fliss at the concert, after you were caught out…”

  “I wanted to see her so badly, both times.”  She said fiercely “I nearly got caught before that weekend, I had to put a baseball cap on, pull it right down over my eyes, before I could put her in the cab and send her home.  No one saw me leave, but I was sure the driver saw me kiss her goodnight… I naively thought that we could sneak off together backstage…”

  “For a quick one?”

  She winced “It was never like that”

  “Fliss said it was” I murmured “In the beginning at least.”

  She nodded tensely “For the first few weeks, yes, but… it quickly became more than that.”  She locked eyes with me, and I could sense her discomfort as she confessed “I never intended it to happen, or for any of this” I assume she meant the scandal “to happen.  I wanted a bit of fun, a diversion from work, only it became something else.”

  I asked her why she had turned on Fliss when the press found out, and she told me that she had been angry, and that she had thought that Fliss had set her up as a revenge for treating her so badly at the concert.

  “Fliss would never do that,” I told her.

  “I know” she admitted pensively “I know that now, it’s why I came, or it’s partly why I came; I need to explain to her, why I’ve done what I’ve done.”  Her voice was bitter as she continued, “I was so angry, so ready to believe everything they told me…”

  “They?” I probed.

  She sighed and made a dismissive gesture with her free hand “Management, marketing, all those people at our record company; it was all their idea, first to ignore all the press coverage and hope it went away, then, when it wasn’t dying down, to issue the statement; that shitty, lying, statement…” She gazed up at me with clear, weary, sad eyes “I never wrote that statement, I swear, but I gave permission for it to be issued; if there’s anything I regret above all else, it’s that.”

  “Why did you agree?” I asked her, softly.

  “Because I was told that Fliss would out me in ‘Diva’ this month otherwise.”  She smiled bleakly “I read the interview this morning, I should have known that she wouldn’t, and I read the interview in ‘I.D’ as well, I couldn’t resist” her smile was wistful now “She looked so pretty on the cover, and I had to buy it to remind me of what I’d lost.  She said that she still cared about me in that interview, despite what I’d said in the statement, she still loved me.  I didn’t know what to do, but… I knew that I had to see her, so I came here.  I can’t rest until I’ve seen her again.”

  Talk turned to Adrienne herself then, and to her career with Girl Trouble.  Her voice and her manner in general lost its sense of heightened emotion now that the subject was no longer Fliss, and if I had ever envied any of the various girl pop bands I’ve seen on posters, in papers, and on T.V over the past few years, that envy evaporated as she talked.  Adrienne had studied at a small regional drama school; neither the council nor her parents would pay the high fees required for her to study at the school, and she financed herself by working in shops and factories when she wasn’t studying.  She had seen the advertisement for Girl Trouble in ‘The Stage’ and, with rent and fees to pay, went to the audition knowing that she would have to leave drama school at the end of the term if she didn’t earn a lot of money very quickly.

  “I thought that I could be in Girl Trouble for a year and earn enough money to go back to drama school afterwards, when it was all over.  I never thought I’d pass the first audition, let alone the others, because I really can’t sing that well at all, on ‘All Night Long’, all I do are the whispered bits, I’ve never had to hit any of the high notes or do any vocal histrionics, I leave that to Bianca and Jemma; they’re the divas, not me, I’ve had it easy in that respect – I just stand there and look pretty.  Our first manager as good as told me that I was just there because I looked good, I was to be the tits’n’ass of the band basically.”  She paused, “I’m feeling sorry for myself again, aren’t I? It’s like anything else; you sell yourself with your eyes open.  The difference was that the other girls wanted to be famous, or to be solo singers, all I wanted was the money: They went to stage schools, not drama schools, and they had the look, the walk, and the attitude, from that – I don’t have any of that, but I learnt it: It was just a game at first, a new acting challenge for me; I use a different accent when I’m in Girl Trouble, wear different clothes, wear make-up so thick that it’s like wearing a mask… I didn’t have a girlfriend when I joined Girl Trouble, and everyone assumed that I was straight, so I let them believe it; it wasn’t even an issue, really, at first… I had affairs, but I managed to keep them quiet, and then…”

  Downstairs, the door opened, and was closed again; I could hear Fliss’ impatient skip-walk on the stairs.  Adrienne heard it too, and her sad eyes lit up as she jerked her head in surprise.  “Is this her?” there was an eager catch in her voice.

  The first thing that Fliss saw when she pushed open the door was Adrienne, curled up in the armchair, stroking Marmalade.  The shopping bags dropped to the floor with a crash, as she stood, stock-still and open mouthed, for a few moments.  Adrienne seemed equally mesmerised as she slowly got to her feet.  She placed Marmalade down on the floor, and then walked over to Fliss.  A sob escaped Fliss as they held onto each other, and I left the room with a lump in my throat and a lot to think about.

  When I came back, they were sat next to each other on the sofa.  Both faces bore the evidence of a tearful reunion, and Adrienne was being held, loosely but lovingly, by Fliss.  I didn’t want to ask what they were going to do, so instead I stayed and talked for a while of things that didn’t matter, but as soon as I could, I tiptoed quietly away, leaving them to say what needed to be said.

  I tried to read, but I couldn’t concentrate; it was as though the words kept slipping away from me so that, after a while, I gave up altogether and went to bed. My dreams were haunted by dark haired girls dressed in long, white, old-fashioned style nightdresses, who shinned down drainpipes and ran away into forests and woodland, and I woke up with the lyrics to ‘Scarborough Fair’ stuck in my head. There was a soft give in the mattress as the cat jumped up; she mewed pitifully as she walked across my stomach, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,” I murmured drowsily, and then groaned as she meowed down my ear and began to pummel my shoulder with her paws. With great care, I turned over, and she jumped down onto the carpet. As I prepared to get up, other lines bled through from the lingering subconscious of my dreams, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”

  I opened the front door to go out to work, and was nearly blinded by a volley of flashbulbs.  I somehow barged, elbowed and shoved my way through the congregation on the doorstep and path and emerged from the scrimmage not too much the worse for wear just as Fergus arrived to pick me up.  I ran to him, and threw myself into the car, slamming the door so hard that he winced.  “GO!” I shouted, “FAST AS YOU CAN, GO!”

  He was so startled by the whole spectacle that he did just that.  It was only as we waited at the traffic lights that he asked mildly “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

  “Adrienne” I replied, and quickly relayed the whole story.

  “It was on Key 103 this morning that she’d been sacked from Girl Trouble” he said once I had finished “The label issued a statement about an hour ago, something about her just walking out, not telling anyone where she was going.”

  “She read Fliss’ interview in ‘I.D’” I said quietly “Fliss told them that she still loved her.”

  He shook his head “It’s going to get nasty…”

  “Get nasty? I have the tabloid press camped out on my doorstep! Can it get worse?”

  He nodded “Oh yes, it’ll definitely get worse…”

  At dinner, he emerged from the lift with the ominous statement “I’ve phoned Jenny, I think we’re going to need her.”

  “We?”

  He sighed, sounding almost as weary as Adrienne had, “You, me, Fliss, Adrienne, Flora, and Katy: That’s us.”  He explained, patiently, “Girl Trouble, SKM Records, Dave Nelson Management, the tabloids… they’re them.”

  “And what do you intend us to do?” I enquired.

  “Well” he admitted, “that depends on Adrienne.”

  But Adrienne was clearly weary of the lies.  “Let’s get it over with,” she announced to Fliss, Fergus, Jenny and me that evening, her eyes deadly serious, her face set in a stubborn expression, “I’m ready.”

  The plan was for Adrienne to write a statement in which she effectively outed herself, and in which she clarified and gave a short account of her relationship with Fliss.  Once she had written it, Fliss typed it for her on Jenny’s laptop, and it was promptly emailed to every paper, magazine, fanzine, T.V and radio station that we could think of, both those who had expressed an interest in Titanium Rose, and those who religiously ran even the most trivial Girl Trouble gossip pieces.  From the 3am Girls to the ‘NME’, from Radio One to Silk F.M, ‘The Face’ to ‘The F Word’, it was sent.

  From far and wide they read, and from far and wide they came, seeking interviews, pictures, and details… Some wanted to interview Fliss, some wanted to interview both Adrienne and Fliss, but mostly it was Adrienne that they wanted.

  In the space of a fortnight, Adrienne did over two hundred interviews.  Her three biggest, and most important, were given to ‘City Life’, ‘NME’, and ‘Diva’.  In-between interviews, she and Fliss spent as much time together as possible.

  On the second Thursday, Adrienne was persuaded by Fliss to go with us on our monthly pilgrimage to X-Offender; Fliss evidently wanted to show her off, and although I could sense that Adrienne would rather not go, she complied, swapping her usual denim rags for a lycra mini skirt and red velour halter-top.  Her hair was washed and styled into glossy ringlets, and she wore red lipstick and dark eye shadow.  “Scrubs up quite nicely, doesn’t she?” grinned Fliss, affectionately, but I could sense Adrienne’s discomfort.  Though there was no question that she looked anything other than gorgeous, I could tell by the way that she stood, and by the way she wouldn’t meet my eyes, that she hated it.

  Whilst we waited upstairs in the crowded bar for the club to start, I noticed a number of people glance, speculatively, in our direction as we drank our drinks and watched T.V.  Adrienne noticed it too, and I sensed her shift, uncomfortably, under their gaze.  After a few minutes of this, a couple of youngish men with Beckham haircuts and designer clothes came over, “Are you Adrienne Du Shanne?” asked one of them.

  “Yes,” she replied, warily.

  He relaxed, and I saw him nudge his companion, “Told you, you owe me a pint.”

  The other boy became very excited then, he seemed to tremble with a nervous energy as he asked, in quivering tones, “Can, can, can I have your autograph?”

  As he handed her a piece of paper and a pen, she let go of Fliss’ hand, and moved away from her as she said, in the smooth tones of her stage voice, “Who am I writing it to?”  I saw her frown to herself, and then she added, in her Burnley accent, “What’s your name?”

  “Craig,” he whispered, adoringly.

  “Craig,” she nodded as she signed, and I saw her take hold of Fliss’ hand once more as she handed the paper and pen back to him.

  In the tiny, dingy, neon tinged club, I observed them dancing to the Tatu version of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ a treasonable offence this close to the M60.  On the way home, they clung to each other as though they would never let go, and yet… I somehow knew.

Chapter Thirty One: All The Things She Said

“Never mind the Russians, last weeks tabloids may have got themselves all steamed up with their mass publication of the above picture of pouting pop totty, Adrienne Du Shanne, but pop pundits are already much more interested in the identity of her young ‘friend’… at Kings Reach Towers, the smart money is on femme rock band, Titanium Rose, and their ever lovely singer/guitarist, Fliss Keale (pictured below).  Not only does Fliss fit the physical profile, but she is also known to kick with the other foot, having already notched up a fling with Girls From Mars guitarist, Violet Powys.  It’s also been reported that Fliss was spotted out shopping in Manchester city centre with the Burnley born Adrienne on a number of occasions last year…” (New Musical Express, 5th February 2003) 

Jenny warned us about the ‘NME’ story, but she was powerless to stop it.  “This won’t be the end of it.”  She warned Fliss severely at our house the morning after the paper hit the shops.

  Fliss hung her head, and I could tell that she was upset; there were tears in her eyes as Jenny turned her attention to her shrilly ringing mobile. She wasn’t crying about Adrienne, but because she’d been shouted at by Jenny.

  “Don’t deny or confirm any rumours,” Jenny said, more kindly, when she had got rid of the caller.  She sat down opposite Fliss, and gazed at her soulfully, “It’ll be hard, I won’t pretend otherwise, but you have no choice. You can’t deny what’s in front of everyone’s nose, especially after today, and you shouldn’t do, but…” Her expression became grim “I’m asking you not to discuss Adrienne with anyone, especially journalists.”

  Fliss twitched a smile “You’re a journalist.”

  Jenny sighed “I envisioned a day when my management of you might clash with my day job, but I never envisioned it happening so soon, or under such circumstances…” Her tone was businesslike as she said “We may be able to fashion some kind of positive mileage out of it if we’re creative about it, but you need to be careful.”  She locked eyes with Fliss once more as she said, sternly, “No contacting her, no meeting up, no talking about her.”  Fliss nodded subdued agreement as Jenny continued “She has some very powerful industry personalities behind her and her group, none of whom are going to want to encourage her to come out.”

  “What about what she wants?” asked Fliss, softly, but neither of us had an answer for her.

  Perhaps the sorriest aspect of the ‘NME’ coverage was the knowledge that certain people, who we had considered to be friends, were all too eager to cast assumptions to anyone willing to listen.  “Fliss has always had a weakness for unattainable straight girls” Violet had been quoted as saying “She’s very inexperienced and feels safer loving women who won’t love her back.”

  She phoned me on the Wednesday night, and asked to speak to Fliss.  When I icily informed her that Fliss didn’t want to speak to her, her voice took on an increasingly urgent tone as she pleaded “Will you give her a message then?”

  I thought about it as I twisted the phone cord around my finger “I might” I said diffidently.

  “Please Maggie, it’s important, she has to know that I never, I swear…I never said those things they printed in ‘NME’.  Someone phoned me from one of the tabloids, I wouldn’t speak to them, they made something up, and it’s been re-produced, I’m so sorry.”

  Another silence came and went before I said; guardedly “You understand why it’s hard for me to believe you…”

  “Yes, I understand” she sighed, wearily “Fliss is your friend; you want to protect her, I understand that, but… I never said a word, I swear… I never even knew about Adrienne until I saw the papers last week, why would I judge her? Why would I judge either of them? I don’t want to hurt Fliss; I never wanted to do that, she needs wrapping up and taking away from all this, not people making things worse by talking to the press.”

  I relayed her sentiments to Fliss: She believed her.

  On the Friday, we watched ‘Top Of The Pops’ and watched the much-discussed Russian duo, Tatu, perform their number one single, ‘All The Things She Said’.  Much had been made in the tabloids of the girl’s purportedly faux lesbianism, of their relative youth, and of the schoolgirl outfits worn in the video to promote the single, leading such pillars of the establishment as Richard and Judy to call for a public boycott of the single.  The public, naturally, had opted to do otherwise.  Many of the tabloid stories at the weekend had referred to Adrienne as “doing a Tatu”, and the general mood seemed to suggest that lesbianism was about to become the new press merry go round; “Last week vampires, this week lesbianism, next week necrophilia.” Katy had quipped at rehearsal, only half joking.

  Fliss wasn’t amused, but she was eager to see and hear Tatu all the same.  She watched in rapt attention as the two teenage girls exchanged many an intimate glance, sang to each other, and…

  “Damn!” cursed Fliss as the screen cut to a boy and girl in the audience with their tongues rammed down each others throats, for the duration of the guitar solo.  By the time the camera returned to the Tatu girls, they were just emerging from a similarly passionate and prolonged bout of tonsil hockey.

  We had sat through the flawlessly presented Avril Lavigne, singing about ‘Sk8er bois’, Girls Aloud’s equally unfeasible claims to be singing about ‘The Sound Of The Underground’ and, most unbelievable of all, a preview of the new Girl Trouble single.  Not only had the Tatu edit thrown Fliss back into depression, but such depression had been confounded earlier by a glossy, pouting Adrienne claiming to ‘Love Nobody But You.’  Never mind boycotting Tatu; I was seriously considering boycotting the BBC.

  On the Saturday, Titanium Rose were interviewed for ‘Diva’.  It was a friendly interview, easy and enjoyable; the only tense moment came when Fliss was asked to comment upon her relationship with Adrienne.  The temperature in the room dropped into an icy permafrost, and Fliss’ previously happy expression vanished like the sun under clouds of sorrow.  “I can’t talk about the rumours.” She said carefully, as Jenny had instructed her.  “It’s not going to happen.”  The journalist in question didn’t press the point, but I imagine that she knew as well as we did that it was killing Fliss to say it.

 Fliss stayed in London after we had gone home in order to be interviewed and photographed on the Monday for ‘I.D’ magazine.  She is next month’s cover girl, and is extremely excited about it.  Jenny was pleased too, although not as pleased as Fliss, as she’d been unable to take the time off work to babysit her through it, also “I’d rather it had been a music magazine” she confessed as she dropped in at rehearsal that Monday “But I’m trusting that they won’t turn her into a barely dressed Lolita, or I wouldn’t have agreed to it.” 

  Katy shrugged “It’s good press for the band, why so wary Jenny? You weren’t half as worried when we did ‘Diva’ last month.”

  Jenny reached into her bag, and withdrew a copy of ‘The Mirror’.  “My other half reads it” she said, a little defensively “I just hope that Fliss doesn’t… it’s on page seven.” She added, for the benefit of Katy who had taken possession of the paper and was leafing through it.

  I watched as she scanned the page with increasing impatience.  At last, she pulled back, a low whistle escaping her throat as she murmured “The little bitch…”

  Adrienne was posing in a flared white mini skirt, whilst a black sports jacket made a poor job of concealing her wonderbra; her hair hung across her face, and she was peering up at the camera through long, dark lashes.  The piece itself was short, and concerned a statement that Adrienne had issued.  In it, she denied her relationship with Fliss but confirmed that she and Fliss had had “a brief liaison.”  She regretted the incident; nothing more.

  None of us wanted to show the report to Fliss when she arrived home from London, but it soon transpired that she already knew.  I could tell that she was upset and, as such, I chose not to pursue the matter.  When she ran to her bedroom, I didn’t follow, not even when I heard her crying.

  On the Tuesday, she arrived home from work at ten a.m with the bleak news that she had been sacked.

  “Why?” I asked in surprise.

  “Well, they said it was because I was making mistakes too often, but I think it might have more to do with being plastered all over the newspapers… it took a while for the penny to drop, that’s all.”  Her smile was brittle as she said “Nobody wants to be splashed across the papers in an ‘Adrienne’s Till Girl Girlfriend’ story.”  Despite her uncharacteristic bitterness, her fragility shone through.

  I hugged her, and as she rested her head against my shoulder, I said, in what I hoped was a comforting tone of voice, “Well, at least they haven’t discovered your fondness for skipping yet.”

Chapter Thirty: Wicked Whispers

Band practice was awful: I was the first to arrive and, as such, welcomed the calm grey space of the Twilight Studios practice room, knowing that it would give me both time and peace to get my story straight before Flora and Katy arrived.  I’d not long finished setting up my drums when I heard footsteps outside in the corridor; quick, heavy, determined steps as though the person was running, “Maggie!” called Katy, slowing down as she entered the room, “I found that song we talked about last week!” she passed me a tape, and a folded sheet of paper, “I transcribed the lyrics for Fliss” the eager expression on her face began to fade as she glanced around the room; she frowned “Where’s Fliss?”

  Flora, who had brought up the rear, walked into the room and calmly laid her bass down on the floor.  As she unzipped the bag, she murmured “Don’t tell me Fliss had to pull an extra shift at work”

  I nodded, seemingly in disappointment, but really in relief; I hadn’t been looking forward to lying to Flora, who I trust, and to Katy, who I’m beginning to trust.

  Katy rolled her eyes impatiently, “Great” she snapped, “when will she be here?”

  “She won’t,” I admitted, truthfully.

  “Well” Flora got to her feet and carefully picked up her bass, “We’ll just have to do what we can.  I had wanted to work on the new songs, but…” she shrugged.

  “Sorry” I said.

  She looked up from her bass “Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault.”

  But I felt as though it was.

  On Saturday night, Fergus and I went out to Juvenile Hell. It was early when we arrived, and the red, sparkling décor was adorned with only a few early birds.  In a dark, private corner, Nat was sat with Dylan, gazing wistfully into his eyes; she looked up as we made our way past the door staff “Hello” she gestured to the seat next to her “Sit with us” and when I voiced our desire to get drinks, she said, “Dylan and Fergus can get them, you sit with me.”

  The wistful expression hadn’t left her face by the time I reached her, and she seemed quiet; not subdued, but… thoughtful.

  Dylan and Fergus returned with the drinks.  Two pints, lemonade, and bottled water which, I was surprised to discover, was Dylan’s.  It was later, when Nat was busy working and Fergus had returned to the bar, that he answered my unspoken question “I’m allergic to alcohol.”

  “I didn’t say anything!” I protested.

  He smiled, displaying a lot of white enamel.  I took in his muscular tanned arms and long, thin face; his eyes were the same dark blue as Nat’s.  “I could tell that you were surprised though.”

  “Have you been at ‘City Life’ long?” I enquired, eagerly, wanting to change the subject.

  He smiled, not at all fooled “A year.  I worked for ‘The Face’ and ‘NME’ before that; still do sometimes.”

  I nodded.

  We talked of other things then, and I found that the reservations I’d had about him dropped away one by one as we talked. He seemed to genuinely love her, and I was glad of that.  After a lull in the conversation, he asked rather cautiously “You don’t drink either, do you?”

  Fergus was just returning with another drink, as he sat down, he grinned at Dylan, and said “The only time I’ve ever seen her drink was the first time we came here, and she got plastered and spent the rest of the night throwing up.”

  I could feel myself colouring, not with embarrassment so much, more with anger as I glared at him.  I sensed Dylan glance speculatively at us both, but he didn’t say anything, and I could tell that he didn’t think it was funny either; most people would have done I suppose.

  The awkward silence was broken as Fergus turned around to talk to some newly arrived friends, and I seized my chance.  “You’re right, I don’t drink.” I murmured as I leant forward.  He leant towards me expectantly, and his face was sympathetic, which gave me the courage to continue.  “Alcohol clashes with my medication, it stops it working properly, and if I drink more than a pint or so, I’m sick.”

  He nodded, and we each leant back in our chairs.  As I looked up, I noticed that Fergus was watching me; he had an odd, questioning expression on his face, and I think he may have overheard.  There was no time to talk about it though, not there, not then, and neither of us has raised the subject since.  It was shortly after that that Nat and I hit the dance floor in any case and, despite everything, I’m glad I talked to Dylan; he seemed to be one of those rare people who listen without judging, for which I am grateful.

  It would have been about eight am on Sunday morning when Fergus and I were rudely awakened by the phone ringing.  It must have been ringing for a long time, because I heard it in my sleep long before I woke up.  It rang and rang and rang in an almost aggressive manner as I staggered out of bed, and by the time I eventually answered it, it was almost screaming.  Things were no better when I picked up the hand set however, for the scream of the phone was replaced by the scream of Jenny as she shrieked and ranted incoherently about tabloid newspapers and betrayals of confidence.  “YOU KNEW!” She yelled.

  I winced, and held the handset away from my ear.  I could still hear her though.

  “YOU MUST HAVE KNOWN! YOU KNEW AND YOU LIED TO ME! NOW IT’S ALL OVER THE SEXPRESS AND NEWS OF THE SCREWS!!”

  It was with a sinking heart and sudden feeling of dread that I covered the mouthpiece and turned around to face Fergus, who was standing behind me with a deeply curious expression on his face.  “Nip out and buy a selection of the tabloids.” I hissed “the trashiest ones; might be important.” He nodded, and then shot off to my bedroom in pursuit of his clothes and wallet.

  Jenny was still bawling me out when he returned from the newsagents, and by then I knew what to expect, for Jenny had confirmed my worst fears.  Fergus was surveying the papers with a mingled expression of distaste, revulsion, and fascination when I joined him on the sofa.  He passed me the ‘News Of The World’ as he murmured, “Well, no denying it’s real now…”

  The front cover of the paper, in common with several other tabloids that day, was given over to an enlarged, grainy picture of a young dark haired slim girl in frayed bleach washed jeans and a cut off t-shirt; she was kissing a younger seeming fair-haired girl, also in jeans and t-shirt.  It was a very intimate shot, seemingly taken from a distance, but using a zoom and it made me feel both saddened and moved as I realised how good they looked together.  But I also realised as I gazed at that grainy image that they could never be happy together; not now.

  “GIRL TROUBLE!” screamed the headline, whilst the subheading shrieked “Raunchy Adrienne’s Steamy Weekend” I scanned the text frantically, desperately checking for any mention of Fliss’ name, but it seemed that she had been lucky, for there were none, just the usual mentions of a ‘mystery blonde’.  I asked Fergus to check the other reports, and he reported back the same: plenty of ‘mystery blonde’ references, but nothing to suggest that Fliss’ identity was known.  The picture was taken from Adrienne’s vantage point, revealing her face, but Fliss had been shot from the back.

  “She’s safe” I sighed in relief as I handed the ‘News Of The World’ to Fergus.

  “For now” he replied, softly.

  The phone rang once more and, fearing that the press had found out about Fliss after all, I answered warily: But I needn’t have worried, for it was only the girl herself. She must have been unaware of the tabloid coverage (quite how remains a mystery), for she began her call by saying “I’m on my way home, how was band practice?” she sounded so happy that I almost didn’t tell her, but I knew that I had to.

  “Fliss…” I began, carefully.

  She didn’t say anything once I had finished telling her about Jenny and the tabloids, but I could hear her breathing as it came heavier, and faster “Oh” she said, at last.  “I’ll be home soon, we’ll talk then” and, with that enigmatic response, she rang off.

  She was in tears when she arrived home.  “She told me I’d betrayed her!” she sobbed as she threw herself down into the armchair,  “She thinks I phoned them all; they were all waiting for her when she got home, camped out on her doorstep…” the sobbing engulfed her once more, and I couldn’t just sit there and watch.  I went to her, and I took hold of one trembling hand as I crouched down beside her.  “How did they find out?” she wept, “Who told them? And how did they get pictures of us so soon? We were only there last night!”

  Fergus was telling Fliss about picture messaging in a low, calm voice as I squeezed her hand and made soothing noises, when the phone rang.

  Fergus got up to answer it as Fliss began to sob increasingly violently.  When I looked up from her a minute later, I noticed that he was stood in the doorway, an expression of deepest sympathy on his face as he surveyed us both “Fliss” he said at last.  She jerked her head up, and we both took in her blotchy, tear stained face and quivering lip as he added, “It’s for you.  It’s your mum.”

Chapter Twenty Nine: Girls in Love

The morning after the Girl Trouble gig started badly when, at half past nine, I found myself being shaken awake by a half dressed and increasingly fraught Fergus. Fliss had also overslept, it transpired, and she also took some rousing. Jenny was furious by the time we finally arrived, and she didn’t buy our various feeble excuses, so the day ended with her frogmarching me through Victoria to the nearest café for coffee and an interrogation.  She had tried to discuss our lateness and disarray with Fliss at dinner, but she had turned her woeful blue eyes on her, and Jenny hadn’t felt inclined to pursue things after that, Nat’s right: it’s too like kicking Bambi.  So, she was asking me, what had happened?

  “Did you tell her?” asked Fergus that night as we lay in bed.

  I sighed, heavily, and turned over to face him, my eyes level with his.  “No.  She wouldn’t understand.”

  “She might,” he reasoned.

  I thought about it, Jenny was au fait with the sort of nameless post riot grrrl scene we’re a part of, and she had wanted me to keep her up to date on Fliss’ girlfriend, but I still shook my head, “It’s not that… so much, it’s mainly that she wouldn’t believe it.  I’m only just beginning to believe it myself.”

  The identity of Fliss’ girlfriend hadn’t been the only bombshell dropped on us that week, for the weekend after the Girl Trouble gig I was woken up by a very excitable Nat. “I’m getting married!’ she blurted out as soon as I announced my presence on the line.

  I blinked, sleepily, for a few seconds before I said “Sorry Nat, this must be a terrible line… I could have sworn you just said that you were getting married.”

  “I am getting married!”

  “To who?” asked Fergus, sleepily; he blinked his eyes as he slowly sat up in bed, and the gentle morning light shone through my curtains and onto his face, highlighting his half opened eyes. 

  “Dylan” I said, still feeling shocked.

  He yawned, and his tone was blithe as he said, “Rather him than me”, I watched as he closed his eyes again and slid back down the pillow.

  I closed the door behind me, and moved along the corridor to Fliss’ bedroom.  I knocked on the door, but there was no answer, so I tiptoed inside.  Fliss, like Fergus, was still in bed.  Her tangled hair trailed across the pillow, and I could see her pale, tear stained face and woeful blue eyes peering out at me amidst the pink and white bedding; the definitive little girl lost.  Her face became clouded by confusion as I told her Nat’s news.  “But she can’t” she said as she pulled herself up by her elbows; “she likes girls.”

  “And boys” I pointed out.

  “Yes, but…” her forehead was creased in puzzlement “Why?”

  It was a question I put to Nat when I met her for dinner yesterday, upstairs at Afflecks Palace.  She was late, and I watched in seething impatience from a table by the window as she queued up by the counter.  I kept remembering a conversation that we had had when we were fifteen, in the long, hot summer of 1997.  We had just come up with the idea of starting a record label, and we were on our way home from a gig at the Twilight.  As we walked along Oldham Street, we chattered excitedly about the two bands (Lungleg and the Yummy Fur, from Glasgow) that we had just seen.  Lungleg had played ‘Maid To Minx’, and we were singing it when we reached Piccadilly; the shops and the bus station lit up Piccadilly, and even though it was night, we were stiflingly hot in our crop tops and mini skirts.  Across the way was Piccadilly Gardens, and at its centre was a fountain; somehow, we found ourselves running towards it, giggling and shrieking as we raced.  People turned to stare as we charged past, listening to our shrieks as we threw ourselves into the cool, stale, and still water.  Later, as we dripped our way to the bus stop, she suddenly said, “I will never marry”.  It wasn’t an announcement; it was an observation, stated simply, casually almost, and without regret.  “Me neither” I said.  She smiled as she took hold of my hand, and we ran.

  “Earth to Maggie” her dryly amused voice broke into my thoughts, and I looked up into her similarly amused dark blue eyes, as different to Fliss’ forget-me-not pale blue sad eyes as a night’s sky, full of mystery and stars.  Her whole face seemed to light up as she laughed.  “You were miles away.”

  I nodded my mind half on the past, half on the present, as I asked.  “Why are you marrying him Nat?”

  “Because I love him,” she said, simply.

  “I don’t believe you,” I said, quietly.

  She shrugged, and a secretive expression seemed to veil her face as she said, “Don’t then.”

  “It isn’t like you.” I remembered when I had last seen her.  It had been at Juvenile Hell, when she and Violet had discussed Fliss’ dress, a dress that I now know was a present from Adrienne.  I remembered Nat choking on her drink when I had described the girl shinning down our drainpipe… Had she known? But Nat had been with Dylan that night, all night, and she had been very, very drunk… “Nat” I said, as casually as I could “You’re not marrying him because you’re pregnant, are you?”

  She pulled a face “Hardly…”

  I was beginning to feel about as puzzled as Fliss had seemed when I had told her the news “Well then… why?”

  She sighed as she rested her elbows on the table, and propped her chin on her left palm.  She held her right hand out to me, and I could see the ring, winking out at me from her middle finger.  It was a platinum snake ring, with tiny sapphire eyes.  As she withdrew her hand, she gazed at the ring herself, and her expression was one of fondness as she said, “He wanted to get me a different one, but I like this.” As she looked up, her expression became sheepish as she said “We were sat on one of those huge wooden seats by the fountains in Piccadilly when he proposed.”  The dreamy, fond expression returned as she continued, “It was so romantic… He said he knew he’d only known me for a few months, but he knew he was in love with me.  He said that he’d never met anyone like me before, and he didn’t want to lose me, he wanted me to be always there.”

  My scepticism was fading as I asked “And you?” she didn’t reply, but I persisted “How do you feel?”

  “I feel… great, I feel… so happy that I could never explain.”  The secretive veil was lifting from her face as she said “I never met a man who managed to balance protectiveness with freedom and trust, never without it seeming false, never with it feeling natural… It always felt as though they wanted to own me or as if they were trying but… as though they were confused about what they wanted from me, and from the relationship, I don’t sense that.  I feel comfortable with him, he’s supportive and he listens to me, he doesn’t assume things.”  She grinned widely “And he’s equally wonderful in bed too.”

  I smiled, cynically, to myself.

  Her own smile faded a little as she said “I told Violet yesterday, about Dylan… she thinks I’m selling out.”  She looked up at me nervously “Do you?”

  I shook my head, “No,” Not if you love him, I added silently to myself.

    Fliss was back to her usual cheerful self at the recording studio today, so Jenny appears to have accepted her behaviour as a blip and has lost interest in finding out what happened, for now at least. Earlier in the week, Fliss was stumbling over her chords and forgetting her lyrics, not to mention all the times when she ran out of the room in tears, but today was very different, and she smiled all day long as she calmly and easily played and sang her way through the takes; everyone was very pleased.

  The reason for this abrupt change of mood became abundantly clear almost as soon as we arrived home.  “I’m going to see Adrienne!” she beamed as she gleefully skipped along the hall and into the living room.  Even when she threw herself down onto the sofa, she could barely contain her excitement.  Her feet in their pink and white trainers did a little dance and she was more alive than I had seen her since the night of the Girl Trouble gig.

  I hated to ruin her mood, but I had to ask “How?”

  She beamed up at me, angelically “She’s got it all planned out” she began “We’re going to both go to this hotel tomorrow, some Travel Inn place in Birmingham, only…”

  “Why Birmingham?” I asked, curious.

  “Because it’s exactly in the middle between Manchester and London.”

  “Go on…” I said warily.

  “…Only then we check in at different times.  She checks in first, texts the room number to me, and I walk in a few hours later and just go up to her room and knock.”

  It sounded so simple.  “What if someone realises that you’re not booked in?”

  She shrugged “They won’t.”  The expression on her face turned to pleading as she asked “Will you cover for me at band practice tomorrow?” I hesitated, and her expression grew more desperate as she asked “Please?”

  I nodded my agreement.  “I’ll say that you had a last minute shift at work, and that you couldn’t get out of it.”

  She hugged me, impulsively and tightly, “Thank you Maggie!”  As she bounded out of the room, she called “You won’t regret this!”

  “Possibly” I conceded, “I just hope that you don’t, Juliet.”

  She paused mid bound in the hallway, and then turned to face me; I sensed her puzzlement as she asked, “Who’s Juliet?”

  “As in Romeo and Juliet?” I prompted.

  “Oh” still puzzled, she continued on her way.