Chapter Sixty One: How Bands Fall Apart (in London)

We arrived in London yesterday, and as we meandered through the warm city streets on the coach, I marked off each district we passed through on our way to Victoria Coach Station.  It was sunny outside, and slightly humid on the coach; the city monuments seemed very large and white, very shiny, and slightly intimidating to me.  I watched from the window of the National Express as we passed a forty something punk with an orange mohican sitting on the pavement in Golders Green Bus Station; his face was tanned and lined, and he was wearing dishevelled denim.  I remember wondering if he’d ever posed for a ‘Greetings From London’ postcard in his youth; it seemed likely.

  I found myself feeling strangely queasy as I surveyed the wealth of the West End from the coach window, particularly as we crawled past Selfridges and I saw immaculately dressed women staggering along the pavement, trailing huge, bulging, boutique bags bearing the name of the store.  Everything had the appearance of being so affluent as to be obscene, but I suspect that this response has, at least in part, been generated by Live 8 and G8, which both took place over the weekend: Fliss and I have been watching programmes about poverty all week.

  Carr Saunders Hall, where we’re staying, is on the same street as Saatchi & Saatchi but, despite being in the West End, is reassuringly modest.  Jenny told me a few weeks back that she was booking us into student accommodation for this trip, mainly, she said, because she didn’t want Flora to have access to a hotel bar. I happened to notice as we checked in that there’s a bar directly opposite, so Jenny’s plans to keep Flora off the booze seem doomed to failure.

  There was an element of expectation in the air as we set out for the RMC International offices this morning, “Isn’t the Olympic bid decision announced today?” mused Jenny as we walked along Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station in the early morning sunshine.

  I shrugged, “Who cares?”

  Fliss and I recalled watching the opening ceremony to the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games on the little T.V above the bar upstairs at Retro Bar whilst waiting for X-Offender to start downstairs.  We could see the planes performing their display on T.V, and would probably have been able to see and hear them live, had we got up from the snug, sofa like seating and stepped outside, but we couldn’t be bothered.

  This story, and related stories, lasted us until we had to change at the Embankment, then we shut up as we negotiated the crowds of commuters on our way to the Circle line.

  Katy had already arrived by the time we were shown into the startlingly white meeting room up on the fourth floor of the RMC offices.  She was talking to Angel Smith as we entered, and her crisp, black, cropped sleeved shirt and black jeans clashed with our altogether more ragged and random ensembles.  Jenny and Fliss had made an effort, but Flora and I had opted for comfort over style.  I saw a sneer flicker across Angel’s face as she looked at us, ‘Yokels’ it seemed to say, or ‘Paupers’.  It had felt safe to jeer at her back in Manchester, because we had been on our own turf, but now we were on her turf, and the tables were turned.  Also present at the meeting was some Australian guy from RMC, called Nathan, who may have been an accountant for all I know, as it was obvious from the start that music wasn’t his strong suit, and Andrew Ryans, from our publishing company, Say, who was interested in negotiating a new contract.

  “But the old contract’s fine,” said Jenny, puzzled, “we went over it six months ago…”

  Katy cleared her throat, and I saw her exchange a look with him.

  Aha, so that’s it… I thought, and as Andrew began to outline what could only be Katy’s proposals, I knew.

  On the way out, Flora had a screaming row with Jenny, “HOW COULD YOU LET THAT BITCH HAVE 75% OF OUR PUBLISHING?”

  “BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW!”

  “SOME FUCKING MANAGER!” jeered Flora as she stormed off.

  I saw Jenny sigh.  There were bags under her eyes, and her expression was one of surprise, as though she had just been slapped.

  It hadn’t just been that our share of the royalties had dropped, though that was bad enough; it was the knowledge that Katy had our label and our publisher firmly under her thumb that really stung.  As Fliss said to Jenny on the tube as we travelled back to the West End, “It’s bad enough that she’s had the press under her thumb for the past eighteen months.”

  Jenny laughed, bitterly, “No one has the press under their thumb, believe me…”

  An air of gloom had settled over us, one that contrasted sharply with a London that had just won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.  Well, at least someone was happy.

  Earlier tonight, I helped Jenny to arrange pre packed salads onto plastic plates in the communal kitchen as Fliss played her guitar alone in a room some way down the corridor.  When we had finished, I made Jenny creep along the corridor towards her and Fliss’ room.  Our floor is mainly home to a group of American economics students, who Jenny immediately sized up and dubbed the “Young Americans.”  We passed a number of them as we tiptoed along the corridor, and they watched our stealthy movements with broadly hostile eyes.  Fliss was playing clear, simple chords slowly and starkly and, as we drew closer, we could hear her pure, girlish voice soar as she sang:

My sins lie like tears on your skin

I want to touch you

But you’re too far away

I have heard Fliss play this song a lot lately, and it’s become one of my favourites.  Jenny stood still as she listened, an intent expression on her face.  Halfway through, Fliss stopped, there was a brief pause, then she began to play again, a different tune this time, with an almost eerie, repetitive series of chords that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, she played it several times before she began to sing and, when she did, it was self conscious and stilted, as though she was trying it out, seeing if it worked.  I drew Jenny back to the kitchen, saying quietly once we were out of earshot, “Can we really let a song like that go?”

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “No,” she sighed, “and if we can’t get Katy to leave, or to start using Fliss’ songs again, I’m afraid I may have to talk Fliss into pursuing a solo career, I can’t afford to let her languish in this Cinderella situation any longer.”

    It was about an hour ago when I was woken up by Flora banging on the door; she was swearing thoroughly, if not entirely distinctly, “Bloody bollocking swipe cards,” she mumbled as she staggered into the room behind me.  I could smell the alcohol as she collapsed onto her bed, the white key card that had proved so tricky to operate slid from her unresisting fingers to the floor as she closed her eyes.  With a shake of the head, I walked back over to the door and locked it once more.  “Is this what you wanted, Flora?” I spat, bitterly, as I walked back over to my own bed, “is this what all the years of band practice and gigs were leading up to? Was it worth all the hard graft?”  A snore emerged from her prone form and in a fit of temper I hit her with my pillow before getting back into bed and trying to get to sleep.

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